WASHINGTON — Speaker Kevin McCarthy's suggestion that the House would be justified in beginning an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden over unproven claims of corruption is drawing strong pushback from Democrats and mixed reviews from Republicans.
McCarthy, R-Calif., told Fox News on Monday evening that the financial entanglements and criminal charges against Biden's son Hunter Biden could merit a formal inquiry into the president. He reiterated the sentiment in a fundraising message to supporters Tuesday.
"This is rising to the level of an impeachment inquiry," McCarthy wrote before he asked for a donation to his political operation. "I can promise you one thing. We WILL get answers to these questions. We will follow this ALL THE WAY TO THE END."
McCarthy's comments drew a blend of praise and skepticism from GOP colleagues, as he told reporters Tuesday that an inquiry wouldn't necessarily lead to impeachment. Far-right Republicans, who have been pressuring McCarthy to initiate an inquiry against the president, were pleased by his remarks — and sounded confident they would result in a House impeachment vote.
"He's right to do it," said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C. "And I think at the end of the day, [Biden] will be impeached."
But other Republicans were hesitant about going down that road.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the unsubstantiated claims that Biden was supporting his son's attempt to use his name to pressure business associates would be significant if they are true.
"If they can prove that President Biden did have interactions about business dealings for Hunter Biden, that would be a game changer, because President Biden's denied having interaction regarding business dealings," Graham said.
“I don’t know if that’s true or not, but if that was true, that would definitely be a game changer,” he said, while cautioning that impeachment “could” even help Biden politically.
“We’ll see where it goes,” he added. “It depends on the quality of the evidence.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, said he has yet to see evidence that merits proceeding with impeachment, and he counseled Biden to be transparent as his best course of action.
"I haven't seen evidence at this stage. There may well be. But there's a lot of talk going on, and usually when there's a lot of talk of that nature, the best way to make it go away is by saying, hey, take a full look, here's the full disclosure," Romney said. "In my case, I was accused of not paying taxes. And so we put out 10 years of tax returns. OK, that made that go away."
Still, some center-right Republicans said they're open to an impeachment inquiry, although they stopped short of endorsing it.
"My only concerns are that we do it through the auspices of due process," said Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., who represents a swing district that Biden won in 2020. "We'll see where the evidence points. But what you can't do is turn a blind eye if there's evidence and witness testimony that someone has committed a crime.
"But if it's high crimes, misdemeanors and lies, in this case to Congress or to the American people, then we shouldn't have a problem with it," Garcia said.
Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., the chair of the House GOP campaign arm, played down impeachment talk but noted that if Republicans proceed then they have to sell it to the U.S. public.
“No one is seriously talking about impeachment right now,” Hudson said, adding that “we’re going to follow the facts wherever they go. So if we get to the point where we think that’s in the cards, I think at that point, we have to bring the American people along with us. But right now we’re just trying to get facts.”
Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, said he expects to see "due process" so "people can make an intelligent decision" about impeachment.
"As a former prosecutor, I believe that we have to have a process that needs to be followed. And I haven't seen that process laid out yet," he said. "I think time is better spent on appropriations."
Other Republicans were deferential.
“I’ll let the committees that actually are looking at that make that decision,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the chair of the Rules Committee. “That’s not for me to make. Right now I would rather focus on getting the appropriations bills done.”
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said: “It’s getting to be a habit around here: impeachments.” He suggested that it might be a retaliation for the impeachment of former President Donald Trump.
“Once you start — unfortunately, what goes around comes around,” he said.
Impeachment is a political decision, and it doesn't require a legal or evidentiary standard beyond a majority of the House’s members voting to say the president committed "high crimes and misdemeanors," which they can define as they see fit. But the move would carry political risks if Republicans are seen as overreaching and using the tool in a partisan way when they lack the evidence that he engaged in wrongdoing. They haven't proven that Biden acted improperly. Republicans could, in theory, use their narrow majority in the House to impeach Biden, but that would require their members in competitive districts to cast difficult votes.
If an impeachment succeeds, it would trigger a Senate trial and require a two-thirds majority in the Democratic-controlled chamber to remove the president from office. At this time, that is highly unlikely.
Democrats blasted McCarthy's move, with some calling it a distraction from their ability to govern and others accusing the GOP of fabricating scandals around Biden to cover up the multiple criminal indictments facing Trump.
“We will strongly oppose any effort designed to impeach the president or even open an inquiry because it’s not anchored in facts or reality. It’s anchored in extremism,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., told NBC News.
Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., the chair of the Democrats’ House campaign arm, said: "They have no interest in anything else except the culture wars and attacking the Biden administration. Our focus is on the American people and doing the work that helps our communities. And unfortunately, they don't seem to have any interest in doing that."
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., the chair of the Democrats’ Senate campaign arm, was blunter.
"It's ridiculous. To have an impeachment based on nothing is not a good political move," Peters said. "It would be a show about nothing. I think the voters would react very negatively to that."
"It may be more of a fundraising strategy for him than it is an actual strategy, but we'll have to wait and see," he said. "I think it'd be a huge mistake to do that, because clearly there's nothing there."