Opinion: Political inspiration for Biden impeachment push

Photo/Kent Nishimura/The New York Times / House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to reporters after departing the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 19, 2023.

This hardly seems what the Founding Fathers had in mind. In fact, it exemplifies what they feared.

When they debated the Constitution's impeachment clause, there was some disagreement over defining the instances in which this most serious sanction would be appropriate.

After agreeing on "treason" and "bribery," they wanted to find a way to define official malfeasance. George Mason suggested "maladministration," a term already used in six states. But James Madison objected, saying, "so vague a term will be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate."

Ultimately, they added the phrase "other high crimes and misdemeanors," leaving future generations to define what that meant.

Subsequent presidential impeachments show how broadly it has been interpreted, ranging from lying about questionable personal acts (Bill Clinton) to misuse of governmental authority for political gain (Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump).

Now, under pressure from his rabidly right-wing faction, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has decided to apply the constitutional standard to Joe Biden, even though months of Republican investigations have uncovered nothing remotely resembling "high crimes and misdemeanors," nor treason or bribery.

They suggest this may enable them to widen the net of Biden family financial documents subject to subpoena, hopeful of uncovering tangible evidence the president benefited from his son's ventures or, perhaps, enabling them to accuse him of obstructing their investigation if he refuses, a standard aspect of all recent impeachments.

But they set no goal or time frame for the investigation, and, unlike some prior presidential impeachments, most don't appear interested in forcing Biden's removal from office, lest that elevate Vice President Kamala Harris to the presidency.

Rather, their goal seems nakedly political — to weaken Biden's public standing and offset the impact of the four pending criminal cases against Trump.

Unfortunately, they seem to be succeeding, even before starting formal impeachment proceedings.

"You look at the polling and right now Donald Trump is seven points ahead of Joe Biden and trending upward. Joe Biden's trending downward," contended House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, touting the impact of his panel's probes in an interview with Ashley Strohmier of Fox News.

While Comer somewhat exaggerated, a recent CNN poll showed six of 10 sampled thought Biden had been involved in his son Hunter's questionable overseas business dealings, and two-thirds of those thought he had acted illegally.

And a Fox News poll showed nearly half of those sampled agreed the word "corrupt" describes Biden, only a few points less than Trump.

Trump, who sometimes commits the Washington "gaffe" of inadvertently blurting out the truth, speculated — with reason — that his impeachments prompted the one against Biden.

"They did it to me," Trump told former Fox and NBC host Megyn Kelly during a SiriusXM radio interview. "And had they not done it to me, I think, and nobody officially said this, but I think had they not done it to me ... perhaps you wouldn't have it being done to them."

Trump's comments basically confirmed the "tit for tat" partisan motivation of McCarthy and his House Republicans.

And in Federalist No. 65, Alexander Hamilton presciently expressed concern that, in cases of impeachment, "the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstration of innocence or guilt."