House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's announcement that he is commissioning a formal inquiry into impeaching President Joe Biden — without first securing a vote by the full House — is cynical and unjustified. But it's not surprising.
Again and again the California Republican has accommodated the extremists in his conference who hold his speakership hostage. McCarthy seems more interested in clutching on to his title than dispelling perceptions that he is anything more than a stooge of the far right.
Nor can McCarthy's reckless action be defended as a way to entice extreme Republicans to pass a temporary funding package avoid to a government shutdown after Sept. 30. Impeachment — or even a formal impeachment inquiry — shouldn't be used as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations.
It's notable that McCarthy is bypassing a vote by the full House, which he might have lost because of the skittishness of more moderate Republican members. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was criticized for launching the first impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump in 2019 without obtaining authorization by the full House, but a floor vote eventually was held, and it was approved. McCarthy was among Pelosi's critics.
In announcing the impeachment inquiry Tuesday, McCarthy claimed that "House Republicans have uncovered serious and credible allegations into President Biden's conduct. Taken together, these allegations paint a picture of a culture of corruption."
In fact, despite their best efforts, congressional Republicans' investigations have failed to develop credible evidence that Biden as vice president profited from his son Hunter's business dealings. Much-hyped testimony by a former Hunter Biden associate in July was anticlimactic. The associate, Devon Archer, did not substantiate allegations that Joe Biden had any significant involvement in his son's business affairs.
On Tuesday, McCarthy also said that "it appears that the president's family has been offered special treatment by Biden's own administration." Two veteran investigators for the Internal Revenue Service have testified that the Department of Justice showed favoritism to Hunter Biden, whose plea bargain arrangement with prosecutors collapsed and who now faces indictment, reportedly in relation to allegations that he made a false claim on a federal form that he was not using drugs when he purchased a gun. It's legitimate for Congress to ask whether Hunter Biden received unfair treatment, but nothing about the prosecution of Hunter Biden justifies the drastic step of an impeachment inquiry about his father.
Under the Constitution, presidents can be impeached and on conviction removed from office for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." In ramming through an impeachment inquiry on flimsy grounds, McCarthy is demeaning the Constitution as well as his own office.