As Biden impeachment stalls, House GOP turns to backup plans

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House Republicans are increasingly acknowledging that they don’t have the votes to impeach President Joe Biden, leaving them in search of other ways to antagonize the White House.

While some Republicans insist they could still take up formal articles of impeachment, they’re not close to the near-unanimous support to recommend booting him from office. And no bombshell moment emerged out of Tuesday’s high-profile hearing with former Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Hur, though Hur’s testimony managed to cast Biden in a negative light by exploring his mishandling of classified documents.

But Republicans are determined not to give up on a push that’s still a high priority for the GOP base — especially since abandoning it altogether could alienate conservatives they need to turn out in November. So they’re exploring backup options to keep the spotlight on so-far-unproven allegations that Biden misused the public offices he’s held to benefit his family’s businesses.

Those Plan Bs include legislative reforms like tighter financial disclosure and foreign lobbying guardrails; criminal referrals for Hunter Biden and others to the Justice Department; a potential lawsuit for DOJ officials’ testimony and calls from some within their conference to just keep investigating, pushing the probe closer to Election Day.

Any of those off-ramps come with risks of their own — namely that they require cooperation from the Senate or the Justice Department — but, the current GOP thinking goes, Republicans would at least have something to show to their anti-Biden voters with their thin majority on the line.

Asked if he would mind the inquiry ending without an impeachment vote, Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) instead said that his “No. 1 priority” has long been “to get the truth to the American people … and pass influence-peddling legislation.”

“I feel like we’re on track to do what my objective was. Now, if we impeach, then we impeach — and you know how I would vote on that — but that’s not up to me,” Comer added in a brief interview.

The lower-stakes alternatives Republicans are considering have floated in the ether of their probe for months; leading investigators had said in some requests for information that they could end up drafting legislation. But those potential proposals have largely stayed out of the spotlight until now, given leadership still had plenty of runway to try to persuade their colleagues to brand Biden’s presidency with an impeachment.

Now their biggest target, impeaching Biden, is all but guaranteed to fall short — an embarrassing setback in the middle of a presidential election year.

And the embrace of backup plans could have its advantages. If Republicans can coalesce around a legislative or investigative off-ramp, they might find themselves turning a near-certain defeat into a smaller-scale victory, even with their two-vote majority and deep internal divisions.

Republican Study Chair Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) acknowledged that the party is still working to find the sort of “definitive connection” between Joe and Hunter Biden that might warrant impeachment.

But even as Hern noted that the investigation remains ongoing, he appeared open to legislation: “Anything we can do to make this more transparent for the American people, the better.”

Republicans on the committees leading the investigations have outlined a slate of potential proposals stemming from their work. They include tougher financial disclosure laws for family members of presidents and vice presidents, changes to foreign lobbying law, tougher ethics rules and adjusting how classified documents are handled.

Comer has also indicated that he could make criminal referrals to the Justice Department, including for Hunter Biden, though it’s unlikely that the Biden DOJ would proceed on those.

Those legislative endeavors may not spare the House GOP from voter blowback, however, if it ultimately abandons impeachment. Republicans are increasingly worried that their faithful are getting frustrated by their dysfunction — particularly supporters of former President Donald Trump, the party’s de facto presidential nominee.

Plus, senior Republicans will have to confront conservative colleagues who want to see a vote, even if it appears doomed to fail.

“Instead of losing every time by surrender, I would rather try, fight and if you lose some you lose some, but you have a chance to win,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said. He added that some more moderate colleagues have told him privately that Biden “should be impeached.”

Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), who isn’t a member of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, added that he expects Republicans will have to vote on impeachment — even if it fails on the floor.

“The base is going to demand it. … I think it would affect voters at the ballot box, just the base. I think they would like to see it come to a vote and see where people are,” Burchett said in a brief interview.

Whether to pursue impeachment articles against Biden will likely be up to Speaker Mike Johnson, in consultation with members of a conference whose majority is set to get even smaller next week after Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) leaves office.

If Johnson’s right flank successfully pushes for a vote, though, it exposes swing-district Republicans — who are already fighting to hold onto their seats — to a new wave of criticism from Democrats. Republicans were already the subject of intraparty fury after three GOP lawmakers initially helped sink a push to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over border security, but Republicans were ultimately able to succeed on a second try.

Things would go differently if a first vote on impeaching Biden failed. Opposition within the conference right now is significant enough that a do-over would be just as unsuccessful.

“That’s not a vote you put on the floor if you don’t have a chance of passing it,” Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said of Biden’s impeachment in a brief interview.

Republicans still need to decide on pursuing articles of impeachment against Biden. Still, the timeline for making that call has slipped amid delays in key witness interviews and as investigators continue to go down a slew of rabbit holes.

Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) had initially predicted that a decision on impeachment could come in late January. But that timeline immediately got punted to late February after GOP investigators scheduled interviews last month with James Biden and Hunter Biden.

Even now, as Republicans approach mid-March, they are still preparing for a hearing later this month with Hunter Biden’s business associates and potentially the president’s son himself.

GOP investigators also opened up a new line of inquiry last week into the treatment of a witness currently in prison. On top of that, they’re still seeking National Archives records and have unanswered questions to the FBI about an bureau informant who has been indicted, among other paths.

Additionally, Jordan sent a letter to DOJ last week accusing it of stonewalling the GOP’s request to talk to tax officials about Hunter Biden. In a brief interview, he didn’t rule out a lawsuit for those officials’ closed-door testimony.

Comer, asked on Tuesday about how close Republicans are to making a decision on impeachment, added: “The only people that ask me about articles are you all … I’m investigating the Bidens, and we’re trying to get all the information in.”

But the longer the investigation goes, and the longer leadership waits without making a formal decision, the more appetizing those backup plans look — even to conservatives who support impeachment but don’t see a way to win the vote.

“He deserves to be impeached with the information we have now, but let’s be realistic — this is March. The election is in November,” said Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.). “You save your gunpowder at some point. You saw the trouble we had on Mayorkas.”

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