WASHINGTON ― Republicans in the U.S. Senate aren’t thrilled about the prospect of the House impeaching President Joe Biden.
“Don’t we have enough on our plate?” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said with a trace of annoyance on Wednesday, ticking off a laundry list of legislation the Senate must pass in the coming months.
Other Republican senators suggested their House counterparts just don’t have enough evidence to launch impeachment proceedings, which would be politically risky and could backfire on their party ahead of the 2024 elections.
“I haven’t seen any evidence at this stage to suggest he’s met the constitutional test for impeachment,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told HuffPost.
“I don’t know what the evidence is,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a member of Senate GOP leadership, making clear she didn’t think the House had sufficient grounds to move forward.
House Republicans have been lurching toward impeaching Biden over allegations that as vice president, he used the government to benefit his son Hunter, who at the time was in business with Ukrainian and Chinese nationals. So far, the Republican investigation hasn’t turned up clear evidence of the now-president scheming for his family’s benefit.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has said the House could open an impeachment inquiry after lawmakers return from their summer recess next week. He said that the inquiry would help lawmakers uncover more evidence but would not necessarily lead to an actual impeachment vote.
McCarthy is facing pressure to initiate impeachment from a group of conservative hard-liners who want payback over the two impeachments of former President Donald Trump, the front-runner in the race for the 2024 presidential nomination.
“If Speaker McCarthy stands in our way, he may not have the job long,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) threatened in an interview on Tuesday.
But it’s not clear if McCarthy even has enough votes for an inquiry. Several moderate House Republicans who represent districts Biden won in the 2020 election have said they don’t think there’s enough evidence implicating the president. Republicans have an extremely narrow majority in the House, and passing any priority requires near-total agreement.
If the House did vote to impeach Biden, the Senate would conduct a trial, with 67 votes needed for a conviction ― at this point, an extremely unlikely outcome, as even Gaetz has acknowledged.
“They don’t have any evidence yet to prove anything wrong because there is none, as far as I’m concerned,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said. “But they’re determined to have impeachment as part of their record. I think it’s beneath the dignity of the House to do that.”
The main allegation against the president is the same one Trump pushed in 2019: that Biden made Ukraine fire a prosecutor who was supposedly investigating Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company that employed his son. Democrats wound up impeaching Trump for withholding aid to Ukraine in an effort to force an announcement that the Bidens were under investigation.
During the impeachment proceedings, State Department officials testified that the prosecutor was corrupt and that Biden had merely carried out U.S. foreign policy. In their push for impeachment, House Republicans are essentially ignoring that testimony.
At least one Senate Republican is eager for what would essentially be a redo of Trump’s impeachment. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), whose own extensive investigations of Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings did not implicate the president, suggested career civil servants had an incentive to testify more favorably to Biden in 2019.
“They don’t want to throw a president they may be serving within a few months under the bus,” Johnson said. “So I’m not saying they lied to us, but they don’t give us the full truth.”
But the vast majority of Senate Republicans would rather focus on more pressing matters, like funding the government by the Sept. 30 deadline, passing more aid for Ukraine and approving assistance for those impacted by the costly natural disasters around the country this year.
“I’ll let Speaker McCarthy sort that out,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said of a potential impeachment inquiry. “But obviously we don’t have much time. We’ve got 16 days.”