Impeachment threatens to split apart Kevin McCarthy's fragile GOP House majority

At least one right-wing member of Kevin McCarthy's GOP caucus stands in the way of impeachment

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published September 12, 2023 12:33PM (EDT)

Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks with Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)
Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks with Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)

Nine months after taking control of the House of Representatives, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said this week that an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, a Democrat, is "the logical next step" because "allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption," he said, "warrant further investigation."  

"This logical next step will give our committees the full power to gather all the facts and answers for the American public is exactly what we want to know the answers," McCarthy said at a Tuesday news conference. "I believe the president would want to answer these questions and allegations as well."

"It's a mess right now."

Since taking the helm in a contentious round of votes at the top of the year, McCarthy has been dogged by his own caucus over impeachment, with some far-right hardliners threatening for months to remove McCarthy from leadership.

"[I]f we move forward with an impeachment inquiry," McCarthy explained to the right-wing site Breitbart last month, "it would occur through a vote on the floor of the People's House and not through a declaration by one person."

After Tuesday's announcement, McCarthy detractors like Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz took a victory lap. 

Greene has filed articles of impeachment against Biden on six separate occasions since he took office. 

"Our conference needs to stop capitulating to the left, more members that are in blue districts. That's not what the donors are donating money for. And we need to stop allowing Biden-district Republicans to hold up our agenda," Greene told CNN on Monday. "I personally would like to see the inquiry happen (this) week." 

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So far, however, Politico reports, "McCarthy doesn't have 218 GOP votes needed to launch an impeachment inquiry." With such a narrow House majority, Republicans can only afford to lose five votes from their conference in an impeachment inquiry vote. 

Three separate Republican-led committees have investigated allegations that Hunter Biden leveraged his father's official government positions to secure foreign business deals. But no evidence has been presented showing that Biden ever benefitted from his son's deals or otherwise abused his office. 

The "time for impeachment is the time when there's evidence linking President Biden to a high crime or misdemeanor," Conservative Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., said on MSNBC over the weekend. "That doesn't exist right now." 

Buck slammed Greene, who was booted from the Freedom Caucus this year, for leading the impeachment push. "The idea that she is now the expert on impeachment or that she is someone who should set the timing on impeachment is absurd," Buck said.

On CNN, Buck, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, suggested that McCarthy may be using impeachment as a distraction from his own issues. 

The sentiment was echoed by Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., who told Fox News Digital last week it appeared McCarthy was "dangling" the issue to avoid a confrontation over spending ahead of the government shutdown fight.

"Hiding behind impeachment to screw America with status quo massive funding … will not end well," Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, another Freedom Caucus member, said earlier this month. Roy, ultimately, told CNN, "I'm more than comfortable about an impeachment inquiry."

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As many as 30 members of McCarthy's GOP House caucus reportedly do not support an impeachment inquiry, however.

"As of now I don't support [an impeachment inquiry]. I think an inquiry should be based on evidence of a crime that points directly to President Biden, or if the President doesn't cooperate by not providing documents," Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., told Politico. "There's clearly corruption with Hunter using his Dad's name to earn tens of millions of dollars. But impeachment needs to be about the dad, not the son."

Impeachment hardliners remain undeterred. 

"Put the vote to the floor, even if it fails. I guarantee you, if you put it back, it'll pass because every single Republican that votes no to it will get destroyed by their districts," Greene earlier told CNN.

It appears McCarthy listened to Greene, the White House said in reaction to the news Tuesday. 

McCarthy said the impeachment inquiry will be led by House Oversight Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., along with Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason T. Smith, R-Mo. 

"Once again, it's going to be another major leadership challenge to be able to kind of thread the needle on some very important issues that are up against the clock," GOP Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas told CNN. "And I worry that the country is going to suffer as a result of our inability to, you know, get our act together and define consensus among ourselves. … It's a mess right now."

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Gop Gop Civil War House Republicans Hunter Biden Impeachment Joe Biden Kevin Mccarthy Matt Gaetz Republicans