Republicans in competitive districts are poised to come face-to-face with two politically perilous matters this month: whether to open an impeachment inquiry into President Biden and the possibility of a government shutdown.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has suggested that the House could hold a vote to launch an impeachment inquiry as soon as this month, despite hesitation from some moderates. At the same time, conservatives are continuing their push for steeper spending cuts and policy provisions attached to government funding, with some going as far as to embrace the possibility of a shutdown.
Both issues could put the 18 Republicans defending their seats in districts Biden won last cycle in a tight spot — forcing them to choose between risking blowback from their party on Capitol Hill or from their voters back home.
“I think there’s a lot of peril this fall facing Republicans,” said Vin Weber, a Republican strategist and former member of House GOP leadership.
“The Republican conference has a lot of risky things facing them in the next month or two,” he later added.
All signs suggest that the House will hold a vote to open an impeachment inquiry this fall, with conservatives pushing for the referendum and McCarthy appearing ready to take the plunge. But some moderates — including at least two of the Biden-district Republicans — are not ready to take that step, creating a math problem for McCarthy as he steers his slim GOP majority. The Speaker can only afford to lose a handful of GOP votes on a resolution to open an inquiry, assuming all Democrats oppose the effort.
Colliding with that push is the race to fund the government by Sept. 30 to avoid a shutdown — though some hard-line conservatives are welcoming the possibility of bringing Washington to a screeching halt. A handful of members from the House Freedom Caucus have said they would be content with a shutdown if it means stopping the country from continuing on its current spending trajectory — messaging that could be harmful for the vulnerable House Republicans.
One GOP lawmaker — Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) — says she will not fund the government unless a Biden impeachment inquiry is opened.
Those dynamics signal potential trouble ahead for House Republicans in Biden-won districts, who will likely have to face a tough vote on opening an impeachment inquiry, and grapple with Democrats branding the party as one that is not worried about a shutdown.
And they are coming to a head as the calendar approaches one year until the 2024 elections, when Republicans are hoping to expand their narrow House majority — and Democrats are looking to take back the upper hand in the chamber, with an eye on the 18 Biden-won districts.
“I wish I could say I’m not sure but I’m pretty sure it will,” Weber, a partner at the public strategy firm Mercury, said when asked if Biden-district Republicans will be put in a tough spot on an impeachment inquiry and appropriations. “Those are not the issues that Republicans in marginal districts want to talk about at home.”
At least two Biden-district Republicans are expressing hesitation when it comes to opening an impeachment inquiry into the president, arguing that they have not yet seen evidence to support going down that path.
Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) — whose district Biden won by 10 points last cycle — told Fox News in an interview Monday that “we’re not there yet” when asked how he would vote on a resolution to open an impeachment inquiry. And Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), whose constituents broke for Biden 52.2 percent to 45.8 percent in 2020, told The Hill last month, “I think we need to have more concrete evidence to go down that path.”
House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.), for his part, expressed confidence that the votes are there to launch an impeachment inquiry.
“I do,” Comer told Fox News’s Sean Hannity when asked if he thought a resolution to open an inquiry has the votes to pass. “And I think that — I’ve been in conversation with a lot of the moderate members who obviously, for various reasons, have been concerned about this. But the evidence is overwhelming.”
But a new survey says public opinion in Biden-won districts may be trending in Lawler and Bacon’s favor.
In a poll commissioned by the Democratic-aligned Congressional Integrity Project released Wednesday, 56 percent of voters in the 18 Biden-won districts said an impeachment inquiry would be more of a partisan political stunt, while 41 percent said it would be a serious effort to probe important problems.
Fifty-five percent of the respondents said an inquiry would be more about helping former President Trump rather than uncovering the truth.
The poll surveyed 633 voters from the 18 districts Biden won in 2020 that are represented by Republicans. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
“What they do in terms of this impeachment vote will be very telling as to what they actually believe,” Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Oversight Committee, said of the 18 Biden-district Republicans.
He participated in a press briefing to roll out the Congressional Integrity Project poll.
“There’s a lot of lip service but there’s very little action so far on their end to demonstrate that they are focused on representing their districts rather than just getting along with Speaker McCarthy and the fringe MAGA wing of the party that has completely co-opted the House Republican leadership,” Goldman added.
McCarthy has been careful to note that Republicans would be opening an inquiry to expand their investigative purview, and not jumping to a vote on ousting the president.
But Weber, the GOP strategist and former House member, said just the talk of impeachment could hurt Republicans.
“I think any vote to open up impeachment is gonna be perceived negatively by everyone other than the most solid Republican voters,” Weber said. “So, you know, I wouldn’t want to cast that vote.”
“I think the distinction between an inquiry and an actual impeachment is gonna be largely lost on the general public,” he continued. “They’re gonna believe that this is the beginning of an impeachment, and it’s not gonna be helpful.”
On government funding, vulnerable House Republicans are at risk of getting roped in with the few conservatives content with a shutdown. Democrats are already pinning a potential shutdown on the House GOP.
“When the Senate returns next week, our focus will be on funding the government and preventing House Republican extremists from forcing a government shutdown,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in a letter to colleagues over the weekend.
According to a Peter G. Peterson Foundation poll, 90 percent of voters — including 91 percent of Democrats and 89 percent of Republicans — agree that lawmakers should work together to avoid a shutdown and focus their efforts on finding solutions for the national debt.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) — which has made a point to target the swing-district Republicans in messaging this year — says that GOP positions on an impeachment inquiry and government funding could cost them the majority come next year.
“House Republicans are ignoring pocketbook issues like lowering costs for families and growing the middle class in pursuit of an extreme MAGA agenda. The fact that they are cheerleading a harmful government shutdown and a sham impeachment reveals how unfit and irresponsible they are — their obsession with these petty political fights will cost them the majority,” DCCC spokesperson Viet Shelton said in a statement to The Hill.
But the organization’s GOP counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), is brushing off that noise, dubbing it as “mental gymnastics.”
“Extreme Democrats struggled to defend Joe Biden driving the economy into a ditch, creating a border crisis, and now changing explanations surrounding his family business,” NRCC Communications Director Jack Pandol told The Hill in a statement. “There’s no telling what new mental gymnastics they’ll invent next.”