Opinion: An impeachment distraction and McCarthy’s pandering

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023. McCarthy says he's directing a House committee to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Common sense would have you think that the biggest news coming out of Washington, D.C., is that Congress is coming together to create a plan to avoid a government shutdown in the few working days lawmakers have left.

But that would not be the case.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., ordered an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden without taking a vote. The speaker believes that this is a "logical step" in the House Republicans' investigation into unproven claims that Biden benefited from foreign business interests of his son, Hunter.

"The American people deserve to know that the public offices are not for sale," McCarthy said.

The Republican Party seems to be up for sale, though.

McCarthy might've been forced to listen to his far-right flank, most of whom are members of the Freedom Caucus, but at some point the speaker will have to put his foot down.

"I have sympathy with Speaker McCarthy. He's in a difficult position," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said (generously) on Tuesday. "But sometimes you gotta tell these people who are way off the deep end, who have no interest in helping the American people, who just wanna pursue their own witch hunts, that they can't go forward with it."

It should be that simple, but when is it ever with today's Republicans?

This is all a ploy by MAGA Republicans to deflect attention away from Trump and his mounting legal troubles.

A waste of time

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries described the impeachment inquiry plainly:

"It is an illegitimate impeachment inquiry," Jeffries said on Sept. 12. "It is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars."

There are other bills, other pressing business in the interest of the country, that will languish in the House. No action, no debate, no votes. Yet McCarthy and the fringe right believe attacking Biden is the best use of their time.

"The extreme MAGA Republicans are determined to illegitimately investigate the president as part of an ideological crusade that week after week after week continues to do nothing more than try and jam their extreme right-wing ideology down the throats of the American people," Jefferies said.

And unfortunately the extremists have no doubt that this impeachment inquiry is taking the country in the right direction, at least the direction their base wants.

When asked about the daunting task of going through an impeachment inquiry while also trying to fund the federal government, Reps. Byron Donalds, R-Ken., Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ken., and Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., said Congress should be able to "walk and chew gum at the same time."

How can Americans feel confident that Congress can fulfill its major obligations and avoid a government shutdown (while engaged in a phony impeachment inquiry) when lawmakers are using childish language?

Donalds and the rest of the Freedom Caucus are probably feeling pretty good about themselves. They forced McCarthy's hand and got what they wanted.

The rest of the country, however, should see this as a example of how broken our polarized politics have become and how unproductive the extremists on the right are.

How do you mute the extremists?

However, McCarthy's decision to order an impeachment inquiry won't likely be the political win some might think. This was a stunt to gain any sort of pull from an extremist section of the slim Republican House majority that he could. Even with the inquiry, his leadership will remain in question.

Some moderate Republicans in the Senate are left scratching their heads over McCarthy's play.

"It is frustrating, obviously," Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., told The Hill. "I don't know what the evidence is, where they're going with this. I'm going to default to the position that the House is going to do what the House is going to do, and we'll have to react to that."

And that reaction should be that the House GOP has lost its grip.

We like to think of those on the extremist right as on the fringe, a minority that's separated from mainstream thought. Their voices are loud and they have out-sized influence at times. The impeachment inquiry is just the latest example of how twisted our politics are.

If the country is tired of extremism, then we — the voters — must move past it. The extremists must be held accountable to those they represent. We must demand they answer for their decisions. We must demand that they spend their time working on our behalf, not in their political interests.

Short of that, perhaps Republicans will choke on their gum.