John Boehner, the former House speaker who quit because he finally got fed up dealing with the most extreme voices in the lower chamber, once said that “impeachment is not a legal process; it's a political process.” While the process requires a trial in the Senate and has the semblance of legal proceedings, it essentially requires the House convincing the American public that the person being impeached committed legitimate crimes. Failing to convince the American people ultimately cheapens the act of impeachment and the party that brings it forward often pays a price for it.
Of course, the new and more extreme breed of House Republicans would not be prone to listen to Boehner. If they did, they would not currently be engaging in the theater of impeachment.
On Tuesday, the House Homeland Security Committee held its hearing for marking up the articles of impeachment for Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. But while the resolution exists, it is still hard for Republicans to explain just what laws Mayorkas exactly broke.
House Republicans don’t seem to know how to exactly convey why impeaching Mr Mayorkas matters — and ultimately, getting a conviction in the eyes of the public matters as much as getting the two-thirds of Senate votes.
“I think it's important that we show the American people the evidence we have on any of these,” Congressman Tim Burchett of Tennessee told me. “Frankly, the public's demanding it. Whether it goes anywhere in the Senate or not — that's up to the Senate.”
But Burchett — an arch-conservative who is probably the only person who is friends with both Marjorie Taylor Greene and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — perhaps isn’t quite as in tune with the American people as he thinks. The American dissatisfaction with an influx of migrants coming across the US-Mexico border is real, according to polls. But the desire for a drawn-out impeachment process for a cabinet official most people could not recognise on a street? I doubt it.
Congresswoman Nancy Mace of South Carolina — who oscillates between calling herself a “caucus of one” for her somewhat moderate stance on abortion and professing her support for Donald Trump — told me during a recent conversation that immigration was the top election issue for her party and that “Biden’s full of s***.”
But even if, by some miracle, enough Democrats in the Senate went along with impeaching Mayorkas and he left his job, the chances that Biden would nominate someone to enact the most draconian aspects of Trump’s immigration policy are remote.
Democrats for their part have scoffed at the plan.
“I mean, they don't know what they're doing,” Ocasio-Cortez told me. “They don’t even know where the bathrooms are.”
If they wanted real change, Republicans in the House could either get behind the bipartisan immigration bill being negotiated in the Senate right now — one that likely could not pass if Trump were president because of Democratic opposition — or at minimum collaborate with Senators to get the most conservative outcome possible in the bill.
But doing so would mean that House Republicans couldn’t go on Fox News and complain about the Senate jamming the bill down their throats. It would mean they would have to cross Trump and risk offending his whims.
So instead of actually trying to solve what they have spent years convincing the American public is the nation’s biggest problem, they are now desperately trying to look like they’re doing something while simultaneously achieving nothing.
This is not unlike one of Johnson’s first acts as Speaker of the House. Back then, he made sure to pass an Israel aid bill that would have stripped spending from the IRS — a bill would never pass the Senate — and to censure Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib for her comments about Israel and Palestine.
Consider Congressman Wesley Hunt from Texas’s recent remarks to me. After excoriating the Biden administration for supposedly keeping the border “open,” he added: “We have been forced to protect our own border, which is the federal government's job, and what we have to do is convey to the American public to make a change in... November.”
That right there revealed the rationale behind the impeachment stunt. Republicans spent the last three years lambasting Biden about the US-Mexico border not to force him into finding a solution, but to set up the perfect topic for Trump to win back the White House.
But such naked political stunts might exhaust the public’s attention. And they may walk out of the theater before the show is done.