Impeachment Is the New Censure

From a Wall Street Journal editorial headlined “Impeachment Is the New Censure”:

After Democrats impeached President Trump over his phone call with Ukraine’s President in 2019, we wrote that “the House has defined impeachment down to a standard that will now make more impeachments likely.” Well, here we are, as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday that Republicans will open an impeachment inquiry into President Biden.

“These are allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption,” the Speaker said on Capitol Hill. “They warrant further investigation by the House of Representatives. That’s why today I am directing our House committee to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.”

Opening an inquiry isn’t a vote to impeach, a crucial distinction. Formally opening an inquiry puts more legal force behind House subpoenas to investigate the President’s role in promoting the Biden family’s business connections to shady foreign firms. Three committees have been investigating these ties, and they’ve turned up evidence of influence-peddling and Mr. Biden’s dissembling about his role going back to the 2020 campaign.

This has been a public service, exposing how Hunter Biden, the President’s son, used Joe Biden’s name and position when he was Vice President to attract foreign business partners. Former Hunter partner Devon Archer has referred to this as the Biden “brand.”

Some $20 million has already been found to have gone to Biden family members and associates via shell companies. Shell companies are what you use when you don’t want anyone to know what you are doing. This is worth investigating, though so far it doesn’t add up to the Constitution’s impeachment standard of bribery or “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

It isn’t clear whether Mr. McCarthy will ask the House to vote on a formal inquiry, but he should. That would put Members on record. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi had tried to dodge such a vote, but she later relented under criticism from Republicans.

It won’t be an easy vote for many Members, even if this is only an inquiry. The press is already calling this a drive to impeach, and the history of these investigations is that they gain an inevitable momentum that makes an actual impeachment vote likely. For now the GOP hasn’t even written a formal resolution of inquiry with specific charges. The 18 House Republicans in districts won by Mr. Biden in 2020 will be especially cross-pressured.

The risk for the House GOP is if voters in these swing districts conclude that impeachment is merely one more exercise in partisan score-settling. That’s what voters concluded about Mrs. Pelosi’s first impeachment, and the Senate easily acquitted Mr. Trump. These swing districts will determine who holds the majority in 2024, not the safe GOP seats of Marjorie Taylor Greene or Bob Good.

Short of proof that Mr. Biden personally received checks from foreigners, there’s no chance the Senate would convict the President even if the House impeaches him. Meantime, Democrats will argue that Republicans are focusing on impeachment rather than on policies that will make life better for voters.

That message will be reinforced if House Republicans fall into the trap of taking responsibility for shutting down the government. On their present course, that is what the Freedom Caucus faction of the House GOP seems determined to do.

Mrs. Pelosi impeached Mr. Trump the first time on flimsy evidence to appease progressives. Now Republicans are returning the favor, and Mr. McCarthy feels he can’t avoid an inquiry if he wants to get Freedom Caucus support in a budget fight.

Congress is in danger of turning the serious sanction of impeachment into the new censure—a statement of rebuke rather than a threat of removal. Republicans will need evidence of genuine corruption by Mr. Biden if they want to convince a majority of Americans that he should be removed from office with an election coming in 2024.

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