Wednesday, April 17, 2024
    HomePoliticsThe White House gives House Republicans a new reason to fight

    The White House gives House Republicans a new reason to fight

    It is admittedly hacky to begin a column with a famous quote, so the least we can do here is validate its provenance. From the always useful Quote Investigator, we learn that one of the more famous maxims about combat is accurately credited to Napoleon, albeit in slightly different form.

    “When the enemy is making a false movement, we must take good care not to interrupt him,” Napoleon is quoted as saying. Or, as we often offer it today: Never interfere with the enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself. (We also learn from Quote Investigator that Woodrow Wilson had a much more aggressive iteration of the modern version of the quote; it is left to you to click to see it.)

    House Republicans committed themselves at the end of 2022 to investigating purported turpitude on the part of President Biden once they took power. They have spent the 15 months since engaged in a process that probably isn’t leading to their destruction, certainly, but has proved to be an embarrassment. They’ve offered a series of overheated, debunked or flatly humiliating accusations aimed at Biden and his family as part of a probe that’s done little more than exonerate the president against their own claims.

    Leaders of the Republican caucus are very obviously trying to figure out how to extricate themselves from the hole they’ve dug and how to respond to the enormous demand for punishment that they’ve spent so long building in the right-wing media while not forcing their colleagues to take a vote that could come back to bite them.

    Last week, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) floated the idea of criminal referrals in a conversation with Fox News’s Sean Hannity. You can see the appeal: It allows Comer to pretend that his efforts yielded something significant while putting the onus of moving forward on a Justice Department that will pretty obviously not do anything. Based solely on the weak evidence at hand, the fruits of those 15 months and countless subpoenas, it shouldn’t do anything — but this is easy to for Republicans to spin.

    In short, the Republicans began making a false movement back in January 2023, with defeat looming and morale low. And yet, on Friday morning, the White House decided to step in and interrupt them.

    White House counsel Edward Siskel sent a letter to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), calling for him to end the formal impeachment inquiry — an inquiry announced by Johnson’s predecessor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), as he fought to retain the support of his caucus, and an inquiry that has failed to provide Republicans with new lines of attack against Biden.

    “It is obviously time to move on, Mr. Speaker,” Siskel wrote, after delineating the various times Republican witnesses have directly undermined their case. “This impeachment is over. There is too much important work to be done for the American people to continue wasting time on this charade.”

    He’s not wrong, of course. There are a lot of other things the House could be doing, not that it is going to. And the impeachment effort as constituted is over.

    But Comer and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), two of the leaders of the inquiry, have little incentive to pull the plug and continue to press forward. And why not? Jordan certainly remembers how the Republican probe into the Benghazi terrorist attacks accidentally stumbled onto a more fruitful line of attack against Hillary Clinton back in 2015. Who knows which hearing or deposition might uncover the thing that knocks Biden on his heels? At the very least, moving forward means not having to admit that there’s no reason to do so.

    And now they have a new argument they can elevate: The White House is scared! Why else would Siskel write this letter if the administration wasn’t worried about the progress they’d made? Couple that with Hunter Biden’s rejection of a request to appear at a hearing next week, and the Republicans have a new point of friction to exploit in Fox News interviews. This thing that was winding down is injected with new energy. In fact, the White House letter makes it harder for Johnson to pull the plug since the last thing he wants to do is look like he’s responding to a demand from Biden.

    From the perspective of the administration, there’s some value to offering the letter. It presents the case against the impeachment probe in clear terms, with that long list of witness testimony undercutting the central argument and other missteps from Comer and Jordan (though by no means all) presented succinctly.

    But the engine for the inquiry isn’t broad popular opinion that’s been clouded by what the House Republicans are alleging. The engine is right-wing rhetoric and the bubble of conservative media in which Biden is seen as obviously corrupt and any allegation to that end is accepted as necessarily valid. The reason the inquiry survives is that Republicans haven’t yet settled on a way to save face as they withdraw. With the White House letter, they have a renewed reason to fight.

    There is another maxim in politics, if not warfare, that may have inspired the White House here: When your opponent is drowning, hand him an anvil. Siskel’s letter isn’t a life preserver, certainly, but it is at the very least a floatie with a slow leak. It will probably now take longer for the inquiry to slip beneath the waves.



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