(Photo courtesy of Livingston County News) “President Joe Biden listening in on an important meeting.”
Last week, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy announced that an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden would be launched, with the first public impeachment inquiry hearing scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 28. McCarthy and the House GOP are arguing that Biden benefited from his son Hunter’s overseas business dealings and that Hunter used his father’s prestigious position as Vice President to engage in influence-peddling. In a Fox News interview, McCarthy described these allegations as a “culture of corruption”. Prominent Democrats have unequivocally condemned the inquiry, including several White House spokespeople. Biden himself has sarcastically wished House Republicans luck in their attempt to impeach him.
With regard to political ramifications, the most likely outcome on the upcoming 2024 presidential election is the one the House GOP is least hoping for: none at all. When asked about the possible impact on the presidential race, UMass Lowell Associate Professor of Political Science John Cluverius stated that “I don’t think it’s going to affect the presidential race one way or the other. The problem is Republicans don’t have clear evidence that the President has any connection to his son’s business dealings… Unless they have new information, people will continue to believe what they believed before the impeachment inquiry.” Essentially, it is unlikely that an impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden will become the deciding issue on a significant scale in the 2024 presidential election.
When examining the likelihood of impeachment, it is important to remember that this impeachment inquiry is not necessarily a unified act among House Republicans. As of right now, House Republicans only have a 4-vote majority and need to move in lockstep if they wish to see this impeachment inquiry lead to something more. However, the governing majority in the 118th Congress has been extremely dysfunctional. McCarthy was only elected Speaker after fifteen ballots of voting and several concessions made to the far-right wing of his party, and these members still have significant leverage over McCarthy. Two weeks ago, McCarthy had said that he would only open up an impeachment inquiry via a House majority vote.
This last-minute change of plans, combined with several Republican representatives saying that they do not believe the evidence is there for a serious impeachment inquiry, suggests that there is not a clear majority on voting to open an impeachment inquiry. Professor Cluverius also posed the possibility of certain House Republicans facing temporary backlash from their constituents, adding that “The problem is that McCarthy has a lot of members in Democratic seats or seats that voted for Joe Biden and to be seen as cooperating with this impeachment inquiry when voters want functional government services, it may seem like a distraction for those few voters on the margin.” Simply opening this inquiry is a fine political line to walk, so McCarthy needs to be careful and precise.
Regardless of whether Biden is impeached or not, it is virtually impossible that he be convicted on these charges and removed from office. The House of Representatives can impeach the president with a simple majority vote, but the conviction and removal from office is only possible through a two-thirds majority vote in the United States Senate. As rare as presidential impeachment trials have been in the United States, senators voting to convict and remove a president belonging to their political party has been even rarer. Only seven senators have ever voted to remove and convict an impeached president from their party (Republican Senator Mitt Romney was the first to do so in Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial and was joined by six other Republicans during Trump’s second trial), so the idea of 18 Democratic Senators doing so is close to zero.
Finally, it’s important to remember that Biden’s likely 2024 challenger will be the twice-impeached Trump. Although he is no longer president, he still looms large over the party and holds outsized influence over many members of the House GOP. Trump has been very supportive of impeaching Biden on his social media app Truth Social, but his most direct gestures came from behind-the-scenes conversations with several of the far-right House GOP members most vocal about impeachment. Trump has been using this direct line of communication to consistently express his support for Biden’s impeachment, making him a very influential player in the proceedings. Even though no one can say for sure what happens next, it is safe to say that there will not be many who change their preconceived notions. As Professor Cluverius said, “While a backlash is possible, public opinion shifts due to impeachment are usually not permanent.”