WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republicans whose elections in swing districts next year will determine which party gains control of the House are overwhelmingly voicing their support for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. It's a stance, Democrats say, that could come back to haunt them.
McCarthy spared the Republican lawmakers from having to take a vote to launch the impeachment investigation, a likely signal he didn't have the votes to succeed. Yet many of the 18 Republicans representing districts that Biden won in 2020 were quick to say they supported McCarthy's launch despite the potential political risk back home.
“I think the American people deserve to know the facts and I am looking forward to seeing what the outcome of the inquiry is," said Rep. Jen Kiggans, who represents a Virginia district she won in 2022, but Biden carried by nearly 2 percentage points in 2020.
If the inquiry does lead to an impeachment vote, history suggests it won't necessarily be helpful for the impeachers. House Republicans lost five seats in the 1998 election a few weeks before impeaching President Bill Clinton. Democrats made those surprising gains even though the party that controls the White House usually struggles in midterm elections.
Democrats need only a handful of seats to win back control of the House next year, as Republicans control the chamber by the narrowest of margins with a 222-212 majority. Rep. Suzan DelBene, the chair of the campaign arm for House Democrats, gave a preview of the political arguments to come, saying vulnerable House Republicans are not focusing on meeting the needs of voters while pursuing a “sham impeachment.”
“They are unfit to govern,” she said. “House Democrats will make sure people know that as we continue to focus on growing the middle class, lowering costs and creating jobs.”
Rep. Richard Hudson, the chair of the campaign arm for House Republicans, dismissed the threat the impeachment investigation may have for swing-district Republicans. He said voters want transparency and accountability in government.
“As long as we follow the facts, I don’t think it hurts us,” Hudson said.
An AP-NORC poll finds that two-thirds of Republicans but just 7% of Democrats are highly concerned about whether President Biden committed wrongdoing related to his son Hunter Biden's business dealings. About one-third of those identifying themselves as independent said they were extremely or very concerned.
The Congressional Integrity Project, a Democratic-aligned group, has already launched digital ads hammering the probe in the 18 Republican-led districts that Biden won. The ads frame the impeachment inquiry as hatched by McCarthy and conservative firebrand Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., in an effort to help former President Donald Trump, who is seeking a rematch with Biden in 2024. The ads call on the lawmakers to “focus on real priorities, not bogus impeachment stunts."
Many of the Republicans in Biden-won districts are from California and New York. They'll need to win over independents and moderates to win, and ads aligning them with Greene and Trump are designed to make that job harder for them.
Brad Woodhouse, a longtime Democratic strategist and senior adviser to the group, said Republicans have failed to get signature priorities over the finish line while fighting amongst themselves over lifting the debt ceiling and funding the government. That's a vulnerability that will be magnified during an impeachment fight, he said.
“Short of impeachment, it wouldn’t be hard to go say that this Republican-led Congress has failed miserably to address the issues you care about,” Woodhouse said of the message to voters. “But when you combine it with having wasted half a year or whatever it is on impeachment, it’s going to be a really powerful message for the challengers to these Republican members."
Even as they say they support McCarthy's effort, some of the swing district Republicans emphasize that they'll be focused on other issues, clearly aware of the criticism coming their way.
Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., told reporters the impeachment inquiry is "going to consume a lot of your attention. It’s not going to consume a lot of my attention.”
Rep. Nick LaLota, R-N.Y., said the decision to elevate investigations of Biden “was the speaker’s call,” and all they were embarking on was a fact-seeking mission. He said he wasn't worried about how the inquiry would play politically for him back home.
“This right now is not on my plate. But nevertheless, I think my constituents deserve some answers," LaLota said.
The freshmen lawmaker, along with other likely holdouts like Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., were offered private briefings from leadership this week in order to assuage any concerns they had about moving forward with an inquiry.
McCarthy was asked Wednesday how he won over the impeachment skeptics in his caucus.
“There’s a lot of accusations out there you just want the answers to. Impeachment inquiry simply allows Congress — Republicans and Democrats — to be able to get the answers to the questions," McCarthy said.
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., who will be leading the inquiry, said some lawmakers with concerns did reach out to him in the days before McCarthy's announcement.
“I tried to explain to them that my goal has always been just to get the facts," Comer said. “And, at the end of the day, if the facts lead to impeachment, then I'm sorry, we're going to have to vote on impeachment. But the facts clearly lead to an impeachment inquiry."
Just two weeks ago, McCarthy told Breitbart News that if House Republicans moved forward with the impeachment inquiry, it would come with a formal vote on the House floor. He said "the American people deserve to be heard on this matter through their elected representatives.”
But he went a different route this week and launched the probe unilaterally, though it's possible he could seek a vote later on. The maneuver shielded the Republicans in swing districts from having to cast that vote to start an impeachment investigation, though many said they would have voted yes.
Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., was one of them. He won a district that Biden carried by a whopping 13 percentage points.
“There seems to be this national narrative that people in swing districts don’t want accountability and the truth. Right? That’s not the case,” Garcia said. “There’s smoke there, so we have a requirement to go investigate that and see if there’s fire there.”
Associated Press writers Stephen Groves, Farnoush Amiri and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.