The Republican House has finally, after 15 votes, managed to elect Kevin McCarthy as speaker. That means they can get on to their main business: impeaching Joe Biden for something. Or for anything.
Of course, Democrats control the other chamber of Congress. The chance of a frivolous House impeachment getting the 60 votes in the Senate for removal is somewhere between zero and zilch. So why are Republicans so obsessed with taking a nonsense vote on a nonsense issue that will result in nothing?
I think the answer is that the nonsense is the point. Republicans want to impeach Biden in a clearly partisan, obviously illegitimate way because they want to delegitimize the impeachment process. They dislike that process because it was used against Republican president Donald Trump when he committed serious crimes.
It’s no secret that many in the House majority want to find some excuse (or no excuse) to impeach Biden. In 2020, before Biden was even elected, Iowa Senator Joni Ernst said that Republicans would impeach him as soon as possible for something regarding his son Hunter Biden’s involvement in Ukraine. In 2021, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham threatened Biden with impeachment for pulling troops out of Afghanistan. Georgia Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene, a key McCarthy ally who has tried to downplay the violent January 6 attack on the capital, tweeted on January 1 of this year that, “2023 will be a great year to impeach Joe Biden!” She offered no rationale.
It’s not just elected representatives either. A poll last May found that 68 percent of Republican voters think that Biden should be impeached.
Barton Gellman at The Atlantic argued that impeachment is the natural consequence of Trumpian election denial. Republicans, contrary to all evidence, see Biden as an illegitimate president who stole the 2020 election. Impeaching him seems natural and right.
No doubt that’s part of the impetus. But Republicans also want revenge for the fact that the impeachment process was twice used against Trump. Trump was impeached once because of revelations that he had tried to blackmail Ukraine into aiding him in the 2020 election, and once following his involvement in the violent January 6 coup attempt. Trump and his allies saw impeachment as a personal humiliation for the President. They want revenge.
Turnabout, the Republicans believe, is fair play. “The Democrats weaponized impeachment,” Texas Senator Ted Cruz said in a podcast in early 2022. “And one of the real disadvantages of doing that . . . is the more you weaponize it and turn it into a partisan cudgel, you know, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
Cruz doesn’t believe that Biden has committed an impeachable offense. On the contrary, he wants to impeach Biden, he suggests, precisely because Biden has not committed any serious crimes. The goal is to impeach Biden as a kind of joke or parody, to mock both Biden and the impeachment process itself.
Republicans want to degrade constitutional norms so that people won’t take them seriously. That way, when Republicans like Trump do something horrific, such as stage a coup, and responsible politicians try to impeach him, Republicans can just say, well, ha ha, impeachment is a partisan joke. We’re all just corrupt partisans together. And if we’re all corrupt, why not embrace the side that is open and honest about its corruption? Ted Cruz admits impeachment is just a partisan gambit. Unlike those hypocritical Democrats, he doesn’t pretend he has any higher motive.
Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, argues that this sort of winking, deliberate mockery of virtue is a hallmark of antisemitism and fascism. Fascist antisemites, Sartre says, “know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.” [italics mine]
In Sartre’s view, the fact that Republicans have no real reason for impeaching Biden is not a bug but a feature. “I think this door of impeachable whatever has been opened,” Joni Ernst asserted in 2020, and sure enough impeachment resolutions have been introduced in the House for a grab bag of “whatever”. Some Republicans want to impeach Biden for immigration, others for Afghanistan, others for the handling of the coronavirus, others because of accusations against his son Hunter Biden. The incoherence is part of the fun, since it suggests impeachment is meaningless, and makes a mockery of democratic institutions that the Republicans hold in contempt.
For the Republicans, these days, the only real, legitimate law is that Republicans should rule. They seek to sweep away checks and balances and democratic processes that impede their power. By impeaching Biden, they show their contempt for him personally. But they also want to show their contempt for democratic checks and balances, and for the tools which were used to attempt to hold Trump accountable. Republicans hate Biden and they hate impeachment. Nonsense charges of impeachment against Biden are a good way for them to besmirch both.