Divided House Sidesteps Biden Impeachment Vote but Starts Inquiry
The Republican-led House on Thursday quashed a move to quickly impeach President Biden but voted along party lines to open an investigation into his removal, as reluctant G.O.P. leaders bowed to a member of their hard-right flank who demanded to move forward with charges that his immigration policies constitute high crimes and misdemeanors.
By a vote of 219 to 208, the House referred two articles of impeachment against Mr. Biden — one for abuse of power and one for dereliction of duty — to the Homeland Security and Judiciary Committees. Speaker Kevin McCarthy engineered the move, which allowed the impeachment articles to advance without officially endorsing them. He sought with the referral to defuse pressure from right-wing lawmakers to immediately begin the process of removing Mr. Biden from office, despite a lack of evidence of any wrongdoing.
Representative Lauren Boebert, Republican of Colorado, prompted the action by pushing this week to force a vote on a resolution that accuses Mr. Biden of orchestrating an “invasion” of the United States through lax immigration policies, using language often associated with replacement theory, a racist conspiracy theory that asserts that elites are working to replace white Americans with people of color invading the country.
That thrust Mr. McCarthy, who had previously said he had yet to see any basis for impeaching Mr. Biden and was privately concerned that Republicans have yet to build a concrete case against the president, into a fraught debate some of this colleagues consider premature and politically risky.
“Well, people just all talked about it,” Mr. McCarthy said in defense of referring the impeachment charges for further study. “We take the investigations wherever the information tells us.”
It was the latest display of Mr. McCarthy’s weak hold on his fractious rank and file, and the lengths to which he is going to appease hard-right lawmakers who were enraged that he cut a deal with President Biden to suspend the debt limit and have since demanded more control over the agenda and what bills reach the House floor.
Democrats denounced the move as a farce and a reflection of how the Republican Party is catering to its extremes, and a craven move to distract attention from the misdeeds of former President Donald J. Trump, who was indicted this month on charges he mishandled classified national security information and obstructed and lied to investigators about it.
“When the MAGA wing nuts say jump, Speaker McCarthy says how high,” said Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts. “They can try to impeach Joe Biden all they want, but all they are doing is impeaching themselves and making a mockery of this place.”
Ms. Boebert exulted over the vote, arguing that Mr. Biden had “knowingly” violated federal immigration laws and should be removed.
“For the first time in 24 years,” she said, “a House Republican-lead majority is moving forward with impeachment proceedings against a current president.”
Biden has presided over the largest spike in illegal migration at the southern border in decades. During the 2022 fiscal year, Border Patrol agents arrested migrants who crossed the border illegally more than 2.2 million times. The influx is part of a global migration trend, with people fleeing extreme poverty, violence and unstable regimes. It also led to large numbers of migrants crossing the border during the Trump administration.
In the past month, however, the number of crossings have decreased significantly after the Biden administration introduced new border policies that restrict access to asylum and created new legal pathways.
Ms. Boebert’s decision to push forward with her articles of impeachment frustrated many Republicans in the conference, who want to address border policies but concede that there is no clear evidence of crimes by Mr. Biden or members of his cabinet that would meet the bar of high crimes and misdemeanors warranting removal from office.
“Impeachment is one of the most awesome powers that Congress has to exercise,” said Representative Garret Graves, Republican of Louisiana. “It’s not anything that should be used flippantly, especially in just two days. That’s crazy.”
But he said he still voted to refer the impeachment articles to committee. “That doesn’t mean that I’m supporting impeachment,” he said. “Going to committee is the regular order process, which is how I think things should be done.”
Representative Stephanie Bice, Republican of Oklahoma and a prominent centrist, also voted for the resolution but warned, “We can’t make impulsive decisions because we’re angry.”
Mr. McCarthy has told his members that if the investigation by Representative James R. Comer, Republican of Kentucky and the chairman of the Oversight Committee, into the Biden family business turns up evidence of crimes, impeachment would be on the table.
But Ms. Boebert’s move left Republican leaders looking for an off ramp to avoid an up-or-down vote on articles of impeachment, which would have divided Republicans and forced those from moderate districts to take a more difficult vote.
In an agreement with Ms. Boebert hashed out on Wednesday, after an emergency meeting of the Rules Committee, Mr. McCarthy’s team convinced her to accept a face-saving compromise: a vote to refer her impeachment articles to committees that had hearings on the border already planned. Referring bills to committee is also a tactic often used by lawmakers to quietly bury legislation they do not wish to pursue.
Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the former chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, bemoaned action he said had made the powerful panel into “a venue for a political presidential impeachment.”
“This cynical resolution has nothing to do with border security,” Mr. Thompson said. “It has nothing to do with constitutional law.” Instead, he said, it was a Republican effort to distract from wrongdoing by Mr. Trump, to whom he referred as the “twice-impeached, twice-indicted party leader.”
Some Republicans hinted that the vote was retaliation for Democrats’ treatment of Mr. Trump when they controlled the House. Representative Bob Good, Republican of Virginia, said that “impeachment should not be political, it should not be cavalier,” implying that Democrats had pursued two impeachments against Mr. Trump on partisan grounds.
“We are well aware that the previous president was impeached twice, and justifiably so,” Mr. McGovern said in response.
Thursday’s action was in some sense a mirror image of what Democrats faced in the middle of the Trump presidency. For months in 2019, top Democrats tried to hold off impeachment charges against Mr. Trump, toiling to avoid plunging into what then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi thought would be a divisive and politically perilous exercise.
But in July of that year, Representative Al Green, a progressive Democrat from Texas, moved to force a vote to impeach Mr. Trump for making racist statements. Rather than cutting a deal to allow Mr. Green to save face and put her party on the record in support of considering impeachment, Ms. Pelosi simply allowed the measure to fail in a 332-to-95 vote.
Months later, after allegations surfaced that Mr. Trump tried to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden, his political rival, Democrats voted to open the inquiry that would lead to his first impeachment.
Impeachment of Mr. Biden appears to be an unpopular prospect, and Mr. McCarthy has long been aware of the threat such a move could pose to his fragile majority. He has also warned his conference that spurious impeachment charges would have no chance of seeing a conviction in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
A national University of Massachusetts Amherst poll released last year showed that 66 percent of voters opposed impeachment, including 44 percent who said they strongly opposed the move.
Still, some members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus have been eager to move forward, despite warnings from leaders that the move could backfire.
“There are people up here that are tired of, ‘Hey, we’ll get it done next week,’ or ‘Just hold off and wait,’” said Representative Eli Crane, Republican of Arizona. “I want to see some of these people up here have to take some hard votes.”
A White House spokesman, Ian Sams, said that instead of working with the Biden administration to create jobs, lower costs and strengthen health care, “extreme House Republicans are staging baseless political stunts that do nothing to help real people and only serve to get themselves attention.”
Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting.
Annie Karni is a congressional correspondent. She was previously a White House correspondent. Before joining The Times, she covered the White House and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign for Politico, and spent a decade covering local politics for the New York Post and the New York Daily News. @AnnieKarni
Luke Broadwater covers Congress. He was the lead reporter on a series of investigative articles at The Baltimore Sun that won a Pulitzer Prize and a George Polk Award in 2020. @lukebroadwater
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