Voices: Democrats are thoroughly annoyed with the GOP’s impeachment inquiry

Democratic Sen Tammy Baldwin  (Getty Images for JDRF)
Democratic Sen Tammy Baldwin (Getty Images for JDRF)

Wisconsin Sen Tammy Baldwin should be the exact type of Democrat worried about being on a ticket with President Joe Biden next year. While she won re-election in 2018 by almost 10 points, Mr Biden narrowly flipped Wisconsin in 2020 by less than 21,000 votes after Donald Trump won it in 2016.

But on Tuesday, after Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced that the House would open an impeachment inquiry, the Wisconsin Democrat did not seem worried at all about an impeachment.

“When I’ve been traveling in Wisconsin, there's people with a lot of concerns,” she told me when I asked about an impeachment inquiry. “Lowering prices, making sure we avoid a government shutdown. Pursuing a baseless inquiry is not one of them.”

That seemed to encapsulate how many Democrats in the Senate approached Mr McCarthy’s latest attempt: a distraction from conducting the serious work of keeping the government open. During his weekly press conference, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer didn’t even acknowledge the inquiry in his opening remarks and only spoke about it when a reporter asked about it.

“I think the impeachment inquiry is absurd,” he said.

Mr Schumer’s follow-up reeked of condescension.

“I have sympathy with Speaker McCarthy,” he said. “He's in a difficult position. But sometimes you got to tell these people who are way off the deep end, who have no interest in helping the American people, who just want to pursue their own witch hunts that they can't go forward.”

The Senate has always treated the House of Representatives like the children’s table of Congress. And indeed, as we at Inside Washington reported last week, Republicans in the upper chamber don’t like the idea of pursuing an impeachment inquiry either.

Indeed, Georgia Democratic Sen Raphael Warnock, who won a full six-year term last year and represents a toss-up state, pointed to Republicans’ own words.

“Well, I think we've already heard from key members of the Senate on their side, who say that there's no evidence,” he told The Independent.

Most senators – Democrats and Republicans – seem to acknowledge that Mr McCarthy’s announcement had less to do with whether he believes Mr Biden committed any crimes and more about making sure he holds onto power.

Republicans like Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene have said they will not vote to keep the government open unless the House begins an inquiry of Mr Biden. And with such a thin majority in the House, Mr McCarthy needs to keep every one of his members happy, even if that means running an inquiry that will distract from the actual work of governing.

That doesn’t mean Democrats don’t find Mr McCarthy’s latest venture to intensely irritating. Democrats desperately want to avoid having a government shutdown, even if they know most of the blame will fall at the feet of Republicans, as was the case in 2013, because they fear it will lead to funding for their priorities drying up.

Similarly, Sen Gary Peters, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told The Independent that this will likely hurt the GOP with voters.

“Well, I think the folks in America want to have folks that are that are working on problems that are impacting their families and not chasing windmills,” he said.

The truth is, for Mr McCarthy, the impeachment inquiry and the government funding fight are inextricably linked. As Emma Dumain of E&E News pointed out, Mr McCarthy is kicking off the impeachment process right as the appropriations process is about to get sticky.

Mr McCarthy will likely anger some Republicans, so he likely thinks that throwing the most hard-right members of his conference a bone might help the medicine of appropriations go down easier.

But not even an hour after Mr McCarthy announced the inquiry, Rep Matt Gaetz, his chief antagonist on the right, criticised his impeachment inquiry as a “baby step” in a scorching House floor speech. He also threatened that if Mr McCarthy put forward a continuing resolution to keep the government open, he’d file a motion to vacate the chair, essentially a no-confidence vote.

“If Kevin McCarthy puts a continuing resolution on the floor, it's going to be shot-chaser,” he said.

As a result, Democrats might be stuck having to watch an impeachment circus when they didn’t even buy a ticket.