WASHINGTON – Eager to impeach President Joe Biden, hard-right House Republicans forced a vote Thursday that sent the matter to congressional committees in a clear demonstration of the challenge that Speaker Kevin McCarthy faces in controlling the majority party.
The ability of a single lawmaker in the 435-member House to drive an impeachment resolution this week caught Republicans off guard and many of them viewed it as a distraction from other priorities.
The measure charges Biden with “high crimes and misdemeanors” over his handling of the U.S. border with Mexico.
Rep. Lauren Boebert, backed by allies, was able to use House rules to force a snap vote on such a grave constitutional matter. The 219-208 party-line vote sent her resolution to committees for possible consideration, like any other bill. They are under no obligation to do anything.
Still, Boebert, R-Colo., argued during debate, “The House is taking historic action.”
The episode underscores the hold that the House conservative flank exerts over McCarthy, compelling him to accommodate their hard-right priorities if he wants to stay in power.
Conservatives are gearing up for more. The process Boebert employed is the same method that Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., relied on to force a vote Wednesday to censure Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff over his investigations into Donald Trump's ties to Russia.
“There’s going to be no end to this,” Schiff said.
“Kevin McCarthy has no control over his conference,” Schiff said. “The race to the extreme is now running the House of Representatives and of course it’s doing terrible damage to the institution.”
During Thursday's debate, Republicans were admonished multiple times by the presiding officer to tone down their remarks.
Democrats argued that the case against Biden made a mockery of the seriousness of impeachment and was merely an attempt to distract from the twice-impeached Trump, the former Republican president now indicted for hording classified documents under the Espionage Act.
“Today they're dishonoring this House and dishonoring themselves by bringing to the floor this ridiculous impeachment referral resolution,” said Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee, suggesting Trump put his allies up to it.
“This body has become a place where extreme, outlandish and nutty issues get debated passionately, and important ones not at all,” McGovern said. “In short, the Republican Party is a joke.”
The vote capped days of maneuvering by McCarthy, R-Calif., to quell the uprising within his party over a roll call that many did not to take.
A sudden vote to impeach Biden would have been politically difficult for GOP lawmakers and a potentially embarrassing spectacle for McCarthy, splitting his party. In a private meeting Wednesday, McCarthy encouraged lawmakers to consider the traditional process for bringing such consequential legislation forward. Boebert had used what is called a privileged resolution to force the vote.
In the end, McCarthy negotiated a deal with her to send the Biden impeachment resolution for review to the House Judiciary Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee, fending off a vote for some time.
“I think it’s best for everybody,” McCarthy said.
But conservatives said more such votes are ahead.
“We are just beginning,” said Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, an influential member of the House Freedom Caucus.
Conservatives are lining up votes, for example, to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and censure Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, who was the chairman of the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. It’s part of their effort to steer control of the House from the traditional centers of power, including the speaker’s office.
“This is what we were talking about,” said Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a leader in the conservative efforts to block McCarthy’s rise to speaker.
Boebert said that if the committees drag their feet, she would bring her resolution back to the floor “every day for the rest of my time here in Congress,” forcing a House vote on Biden’s impeachment.
Rank-and-file Republicans were angry at being forced into the position of having to vote on a resolution to impeach Biden even though they had not gone through the traditional process of an impeachment inquiry. They resented a single lawmaker jumping the queue of priorities.
In one fiery exchange overheard Wednesday on the House floor, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., laid into Boebert for taking the Biden impeachment on her own. Greene has her own articles of impeachment against the president.
Greene confirmed a report about the exchange later and said of Boebert, “She has a great skill and talent for making most people here not like her.”
Boebert declined to comment about the conversation, only saying it's “not middle school.”
Trump was impeached twice – on corruption and obstruction charges over withholding military aid to Ukraine while seeking political dirt on Biden, and later on charges of inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol. Both times, Trump was acquitted by the Senate.