Opinion: Hapless House Republicans weaponized impeachment. It backfired

Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but the hapless House Republicans have finally achieved something big: an end to tit-for-tat impeachments.

Of course, that’s the opposite of the achievement they promised two years ago, ahead of the midterm elections that gave them control of the House. Back then, some chest-beaters were vowing to impeach President Biden as well as members of his Cabinet, starting with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the administration’s border security czar, and sweeping up Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray (a Donald Trump holdover, by the way), Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Lord knows who else.

They managed, just, to impeach Mayorkas on their second attempt — more on that later. But all in all, they’ve failed spectacularly. Fortunately.

Opinion Columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes brings a critical eye to the national political scene. She has decades of experience covering the White House and Congress.

And though Republicans won’t say so, their humiliation has all but exorcised the zeal to abuse one of the House’s most solemn powers under the Constitution: its ability to charge executive or judicial branch officials with “high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” intending for the Senate to try the alleged offender and boot them from office.

The latest and hopefully final blow to the impeachment follies was delivered Wednesday. Two months after House Republicans made Mayorkas the first Cabinet member to be impeached in nearly 150 years, they finally sent the patently political charges to the Democratic-controlled Senate, which took just three hours to dismiss them. The Senate found that the two charges — that he “willfully and systemically refused to comply with Federal immigration laws” and breached the public trust didn’t clear the Constitution’s high bar.

So much for the buildup from the House Republicans’ chief impeachment manager, Rep. Mark Green. “Get the popcorn,” the Tennessean told party donors last year. “It’s going to be fun.”

What makes the collapse of the Mayorkas prosecution all the more deflating for House Republicans is the fact that they’d pressed the matter as it became clear that the air was sputtering out of their main effort, impeaching Biden.

With Mayorkas, at least they gave dear leader Trump and the party’s MAGA base something. But now they’re essentially 0 for 2.

House Republicans have all but folded the Big Top on the Biden impeachment circus. Many months after opening an inquiry oddly based on nothing more than to-be-determined charges, Republicans have no hard evidence of an impeachable offense by the president. Their supposed star witness was indicted for lying to the FBI. Other witnesses have undercut any case against the president. And, consequently, they don’t have enough Republican support to proceed.

The clownish lead investigator, House Oversight Committee chair and Fox News regular Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, last month told donors in a fundraising letter — notice a pattern here, Republican leaders playing to monied interests? — that instead of seeking Biden’s impeachment, he’ll send a criminal referral (again, crimes TBD) to the Justice Department. The hope is that the department is about to come under new management — by a reelected Trump, Mr. “I am your retribution” himself — that will welcome the allegations.

As the Biden impeachment effort foundered, the Mayorkas impeachment took center stage, doubling as Republicans’ platform to stoke voters’ anger about migrant surges at the border. It proceeded even as the secretary spent untold hours at his day job, negotiating with senators of both parties to reach agreement on the most conservative immigration bill in decades, with billions for security only to have hard-line Republicans in Congress kill the deal at Trump’s bidding. The hard-liners said the quiet part out loud: They wanted to deprive Biden of a win and keep the border debate alive as a campaign issue.

Just more evidence that the Biden and Mayorkas impeachment crusades have been purely political exercises.

Both Senate and House Republicans are harrumphing that Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, and his fellow Senate Democrats, set a terrible precedent by dumping the impeachment case against Mayorkas without a full trial.

Schumer and Co. set a precedent all right, but a good one: The Senate need not take seriously any articles of impeachment based on policy spats and politics rather than high crimes or misdemeanors.

Constitutional scholars across the spectrum and even a few Republican lawmakers had joined Democrats in denigrating the charges against Mayorkas. “It’s about as trivial as an impeachment can get,” Michael Gerhardt, author of “The Law of Presidential Impeachment,” told Politico. The case was “designed to put President Biden’s immigration policies on trial,” he added. “That’s what an election is for.”

Exactly. But MAGA Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio said Democrats “will come to regret” dismissing the Mayorkas impeachment articles, when a Republican-run Senate someday does the same to impeachment articles from a Democratic-majority House. That’s a danger, but not one that worries me. Democrats take governing too earnestly to impeach a Republican on such overtly political grounds as those against Mayorkas.

Take, for example, Democrats’ most recent impeachment resolution, the one against Trump after Jan. 6, 2021, for “inciting violence against the Government of the United States.” If tit-for-tatting Republicans opt in the future to trash impeachment articles covering actions as grave as that, they can answer to history, as those who voted to acquit Trump back then already are. (And by the way, back then 45 Republican senators also voted to dismiss the Jan. 6 counts against Trump without a Senate trial.)

Republicans rely on a false premise when they allege, as Comer has, that Democrats “cheapened impeachment when they impeached Donald Trump twice.” Both Trump impeachments, including the first one for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden before the 2020 election, easily cover the sort of misconduct the Founders had in mind, I’m confident. Never mind that Senate Republicans let the former president off the hook each time.

The two well-deserved Trump impeachments are so different from Mayorkas’ and the Biden attempt they shouldn’t even be called tit for tat. They’re apples and oranges. And sour grapes.