Republicans repeatedly point to political gain on impeachment


It’s been eight years since Rep. Kevin McCarthy might have cost himself his first shot at the House speakership with a Fox News interview. McCarthy (R-Calif.) committed a then-unpardonable gaffe of linking the GOP’s Benghazi investigation to political advantage.

He said that Hillary Clinton had looked unbeatable, “but we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.” The comment led Benghazi committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) to agonize over how his friend had just undermined the committee’s ostensibly apolitical work. Soon the presumptive next speaker bowed out of that race, while reflecting that the “distraction” he had created with the Benghazi remarks was “part of the decision.”

We are a long way from 2015.

The Trump era has exacted a toll on political norms. High on the list is this one: Republicans now tie decisions that are supposed to be about sober-minded principles — most notably their new impeachment inquiry of President Biden — to their own political advantage. And some of them aren’t particularly shy about it.

Perhaps nobody has been less shy than Rep. Troy E. Nehls (R-Tex.).

Nehls was asked Wednesday about what the House GOP conference hoped to gain from the Biden impeachment inquiry. He was blunt: “All I can say is Donald J. Trump 2024, baby!”

The comment might be dismissed as an impolitic and unintentional one, except that it came just a week after Nehls registered another McCarthy moment. Speaking to USA Today, Nehls said that after Trump’s two impeachments, he wanted to give the former president “a little bit of ammo to fire back” — to be able to say that Biden, too, had been impeached.

And less than a month ago, Nehls applied this same raw, unapologetic political calculus to another of the most seemingly sober and rare decisions Congress can make: expelling a member. Responding to the growing GOP calls to oust Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) amid a brutal House Ethics Committee report, Nehls acknowledged the gravity of the report but reflected incredulously about “why would we want to expel a guy … [when] we’ve got a three-seat, four-seat majority. What are we doing?”

If anyone in the party has a Gowdy-esque objection to how Nehls is talking about these things, they don’t seem to be getting their message across to him.

Perhaps that might be because he’s a relatively low-profile member. But it’s not just Nehls. Even leaders of the GOP’s investigations have gestured in this direction.

Back in May, House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) made a comment remarkably similar to McCarthy’s. He cited Trump’s increasingly good poll numbers against Biden and said, in the next breath, “I believe that the media is looking around, scratching their head, and they’re realizing that the American people are keeping up with our investigation.”

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) last year pitched the investigations expressly as an attempt to influence voters’ 2024 choices.

“That will help frame up the 2024 race, when I hope and I think President Trump is going to run again,” Jordan told the Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas. “And we need to make sure that he wins.”

At other points, Republicans have basically pitched impeachment as fair-game retribution for Trump’s impeachments.

“Now we have a situation where the standard of impeachment has been lowered to such a degree that, again, it’s merely at this point a political exercise,” Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) said this week at a key impeachment hearing. Reschenthaler quickly clarified, “Not that this is a political exercise, but the bar has been lowered.”

And long before this effort got off the ground, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) basically warned of a thinly constructed, tit-for-tat political impeachment of Biden.

In January 2022, he predicted that if the GOP won the House majority, it would impeach Biden “whether it’s justified or not.”

“And one of the real disadvantages of [Democrats’ impeachments of Trump] is the more you weaponize it and turn it into a partisan cudgel,” Cruz said, “you know, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

(There was significantly more direct evidence involving the president’s actions in Trump’s impeachments. Multiple Trump aides indicated there had been a quid pro quo with Ukraine aid. And Trump’s most recent impeachment earned a small but historically significant degree of bipartisan support.)

What to make of it all? Certainly, it’s a reflection of Trump’s affinity for unapologetic, bare-knuckle politics that members feel comfortable saying the kinds of things that relatively recently proved so costly for McCarthy. It’s also a reflection of how there has been little in the way of 2015-esque corrective action for comments that would seem to call into question the solemnity of such a major undertaking.

Republicans feared that McCarthy’s comments would make them look unprincipled — as if they were abusing their power in Congress for political goals. Today, they act as though it’s just assumed that politics courses through these things, and they can just whatabout any pushback on that.

But for an effort that the American people appear to regard with more suspicion than Trump’s impeachments, it’s certainly feeding into Democrats’ talking points.

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