Despite recent public doubts, Senate Republicans are mostly unconcerned with the House’s newly announced impeachment inquiry of President Joe Biden.
Instead, they see Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s Tuesday announcement as a possible way to address their bigger concern: staving off a government shutdown on Sept. 30. Several GOP senators speculated that moving forward with the inquiry was a way for McCarthy to placate conservatives, who have signaled they are open to temporarily shuttering the government if their demands aren’t met.
“It sounds like that’s the deal in order to start moving some of these [spending] bills. I think that will help,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who added the inquiry is House business. “They need to find a way to come together. If it’s part of the negotiations, then so be it.”
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) echoed that sentiment: “It seems like it’s maybe part of the bargain over there to keep some folks in line on maybe the budgetary stuff.”
Technically, Senate Republicans can do nothing concrete to stop an impeachment inquiry in the House anyway, so they’re not looking to undercut their colleagues now that it’s officially moving forward. Still, after months of panning impeachment efforts, senators’ lack of vocal opposition on Tuesday is notable.
And when it comes to an actual Biden impeachment, everyone from contrarian Rand Paul to conservative Josh Hawley to centrist Mitt Romney said that’s an undecided question. Instead, senators said the House GOP is just looking to unlock more investigative tools to get answers about Hunter Biden’s potential business connections with his father, an allegation the president has denied.
GOP senators also agree there’s still a possibility the investigation could come up short, avoiding an actual impeachment vote. But that could be wishful thinking, since it would come with the side benefit of keeping Republican senators out of another tough impeachment trial.
“The president indicated that he was unaware of his son’s business dealings. But then we find that he had phone calls, where he was involved in conversation which included those business partners. Questions are legitimately raised, and apparently Speaker McCarthy wants to look into them,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who is a top skeptic of actually impeaching Biden.
In interviews with more than 10 GOP senators on Tuesday morning, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) seemed most perplexed by the inquiry: “I don’t know where they’re going with this. I don’t know what the evidence is.” Capito serves as the No. 5 GOP leader, and her comments are in line with many past quotes from GOP senators.
Yet as McCarthy actually makes his move, most Senate Republicans tacked toward acceptance rather than resistance. Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said his focus is on winning elections but he acknowledged that McCarthy’s “under a lot of pressure over there.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said if the House GOP wants to “head down that path, I think they are gonna wanna do their homework. And that sounds to me like what the speaker is advocating.”
“It sounds like they have legitimately identified concerns that rise to that level” of an inquiry, said conservative Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.).
If the House eventually goes through with an impeachment vote, it would then become the Senate GOP’s problem, setting them up for a lengthy trial and bruising political votes on witnesses and President Biden’s guilt or innocence. For now, the squeeze is on the House — a bit of a relief to Senate Republicans.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for his part, avoided weighing in on the inquiry: “I don’t think the Speaker McCarthy needs any advice from the Senate on how to run the House.”