“I’m a work horse, not a show horse.”
Candidates for public office have made that claim, trying to convince voters they would be serious about their duties and not merely headline grabbers. They wanted to impress hard-working voters.
Now, Congress is peppered with show horses. For them, a seat in the House of Representatives provides them with the platform for pursuing conspiracies that can attract media attention. They don’t want to make laws; they want to make trouble.
With the slim Republican majority in the House, these radical right-wing members may soon have the power to conduct mock “investigations” and possibly even to force a vote on impeaching President Biden. They have resented being marginalized in the past and now see their opportunity to step into the spotlight.
There’s an agenda behind their moves that goes beyond merely gaining public attention for their theories. It’s a vendetta for Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in 2020.
Some of these Trumpers still falsely claim that the last presidential election was stolen by Biden and the Democrats. They can do little about that with Biden installed in the White House, but they can harass him. To their election complaint, they add grievances about congressional hearings on Trump, especially his actions during the January 6 insurrection.
If they can force Biden into defending himself against their trumped-up charges, they hope to weaken him as the Democratic candidate in 2024. As the saying goes, if you “throw enough mud against a wall, some of it may stick.” Even if their charges are fake, they might make some voters nervous about Biden.
If Biden has to go on the defensive, he will have less time for his legislative agenda. The radicals would consider the defeat of his agenda a major accomplishment. They would have no need for a program of their own.
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz had earlier warned that if his party took the House, there would be a chance it will impeach Biden, “whether it’s justified or not.” It would be payback for the two impeachments of then President Trump, which the GOP saw as partisan excess.
If Congress could impeach Trump for a phone call to Ukraine President Zelensky, the radicals may believe that pursuing Biden for the chaotic withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan could work.
Presidential impeachment is political. It has been used four times: Andrew Johnson (1868), Bill Clinton (1999), and Trump (2019, 2021). All were overwhelmingly partisan, and none led to the president’s removal. The only bipartisan move, targeting Richard Nixon (1974), led to his resigning to avoid being impeached and then convicted by the Senate.
Trump, who often finds himself in court, is now facing serious legal charges, probably more challenging than impeachment. He continually asserts that all charges against him are politically motivated. But his likely violation of the Presidential Records Act keeps moving ahead, and he scrambles to put together a defense.
His allies in the House may hope to use pressure on Biden as a way to induce prosecutors to back off on Trump’s cases. But a new special prosecutor, beyond political reach, is dealing with his keeping government records and his insurrection role. He also faces possible indictment in Georgia and New York on state charges, both unaffected by whatever happens in Congress.
Impeachment has been devalued by its increasingly frequent and overtly political use when there’s no hope of conviction by the Senate. Charges brought by prosecutors may take its place as a way of holding a president accountable.
Because Trump is once again a candidate, prosecutors must proceed with caution, but need not be deterred. Trump on trial could face what is for him a fate worse than impeachment – losing.
It’s likely that a Biden impeachment resolution will be introduced and that the Judiciary Committee will hold hearings. Will the GOP unite to pass a resolution leading to a Senate trial? Bringing Biden before the Senate, where he surely could not be convicted, would be counted as a big win by the radical right.
The GOP Speaker should be able control the Republicans and to ensure that they do not later pay a political price for focusing on Biden and not on congressional business. But GOP control of the House is so narrow that the Speaker cannot afford to offend the radicals. Besides, the radical agenda includes reducing the Speaker’s powers.
The radicals might be allowed to play out their game. But their overreaching could cause a Republican split. The radicals’ exaggerated role might bring a reaction from traditional conservatives that could boost the GOP’s appeal to a broader electorate.
If Biden decides against running again, removing him as a prime target for the radical right, the Republicans might find it advantageous to return to their roots.
Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.