No administration is excited about an impeachment inquiry being launched into the sitting president.
But inside the Biden White House, the response to House Republicans taking that step was more telling than the launch of the inquiry itself.
“It’s not even wall-to-wall on cable,” a White House official said of the coverage of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s announcement that he would task the Oversight, Judiciary and Ways and Means committees to further investigate allegations — unproven still — that Biden used past offices to help his son’s business ventures.
The White House official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the mood inside the building, wasn’t wrong. While McCarthy’s announcement was widely covered, by midday, television news had turned its attention to other topics. Within Biden world, those programming decisions reinforced the belief that House GOP inquiries have failed to resonate with the public and that Tuesday’s escalation wouldn’t either.
“Most people can’t name the nine Supreme Court justices,” said one Democratic operative working to help counter House GOP investigations into the administration and who was granted anonymity to reveal internal deliberations. “They’re not going to be following these insane conspiracy theories.”
That the launch of an impeachment inquiry would not merit more blaring headlines may reflect the lack of concrete evidence supporting the charges — an absence acknowledged by even some congressional Republicans. But it also illustrated the emerging expectation that, in modern partisan warfare, any president will likely face this fate should Congress fall into the hands of the opposition party.
Certainly, inside the White House, some aides had long expected Biden would be impeached. They’d been preparing for it for months.
As the year went along, the president’s team gradually built up a war room to deal with those investigations. All told, about two dozen people — a mix of lawyers, legislative staff and communications aides — have been tasked with producing strategies to push back against the GOP probes. As the rhetoric heated up recently, the West Wing was in frequent communication with the House Democratic leadership to prepare for the process.
The staff has tried to cordon off operations related to impeachment, down to the way it handles press around it. The communications shop notably did not put out a statement in response to McCarthy, instead pointing to a tweet from Ian Sams, the spokesman for the White House Counsel’s Office. A Democrat familiar with operations said that the Biden campaign sent out impeachment talking points to surrogates and anyone going on TV Tuesday in addition to leaning on its rapid response team.
The president himself has not spent much time dwelling on it, according to two people familiar with this thinking, though it has obviously taken up some of his time and attention.
No president or White House welcomes such an inquiry, which is time-consuming, draining, creates negative headlines and sometimes leads to unexpected directions. But inside the building, aides believe it is McCarthy, not Biden, who finds himself in a jam politically.
Biden aides believe that the speaker has been lurching from one moment to the next, trying to appease former President Donald Trump and his allied lawmakers while also aiming to placate the more moderate Republicans who won in Biden districts last year. They suspect the launch of a formal inquiry was an attempt to buy goodwill among conservatives to keep the government open when funding runs out in a matter of weeks. They note that McCarthy had recently pledged to seek a vote before authorizing the inquiry but didn’t — either out of a realization the votes weren’t there or because the funding standoff grew more dire.
Biden aides also believe that the escalation is tacit admission by Republicans that their previous probes turned up little.
“House Republicans have been investigating the President for 9 months, and they’ve turned up no evidence of wrongdoing,” Sams said in a statement. “McCarthy’s own Republican members have said so. He vowed to hold a vote to open impeachment, now he flip flopped because he doesn’t have support. This is extreme politics at its worst.”
McCarthy, in his remarks Tuesday, said he did not come to his decision lightly. He also urged the president to fully cooperate, saying it appeared the Biden family had engaged in an “abuse of power, obstruction, and corruption” that warranted “further investigation by the House of Representatives.”
It was presented as a shot across the bow to Biden. But inside the West Wing and among the president’s allies, some aides suggested they couldn’t believe their own good luck that the House GOP’s fall agenda may now largely focus on impeachment and potentially triggering a government shutdown — two significant political risks.
“This is a blatant political move, and I don’t know what they think it nets them because I think the country is tired of blatant political moves,” said Leah Daughtry, former chair of the Democratic National Committee. “Every American citizen can give you a list of things that the Congress should be doing and impeaching President Biden is not one of them.”
Holly Otterbein contributed to this report.
The West Wing views the latest impeachment efforts as a risky gamble — for Republicans