A surprise effort by hard-right House Republicans to impeach President Joe Biden has been sidelined for now, but the ability of GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert to force the issue to a House vote demonstrates the ever-escalating challenge Speaker Kevin McCarthy faces in controlling his Republican majority.
The impeachment resolution, which charges Biden with “high crimes and misdemeanors” over his handling of the U.S. border with Mexico, angered GOP colleagues who were caught off guard by the unscripted move. Even though it was not expected to pass Thursday, the vote would have been politically tough for GOP lawmakers and a potentially embarrassing spectacle for McCarthy, splitting his party.
Instead, McCarthy negotiated a deal with Boebert, the Colorado Republican, to send the Biden impeachment resolution for review to the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, fending off a vote for some time.
“I think it’s best for everybody,” McCarthy told reporters late Wednesday.
But in a sign of the right flank's determination to push ahead, Boebert said that if the committees slow-roll action, she’ll bring her resolution back to the floor “every day for the rest of my time here in Congress,” forcing a House vote on Biden's impeachment.
The tense, 24-hour episode underscores the hold the House conservative flank exerts over McCarthy, forcing the speaker to accommodate hard-right priorities if he wants to stay in power. And it shows the power of a single lawmaker to use the rules of the House to force a snap vote on such weighty measures as a presidential impeachment.
It's the same method another hard-right conservative, Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., used Wednesday to force a separate vote to censure Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff over his investigations into Donald Trump's ties to Russia.
“There’s going to be no end to this,” Schiff told The Associated Press and others at the Capitol.
“Kevin McCarthy has no control over his conference,” Schiff said. ”The race to the extreme is now running the House of Representatives and of course it’s doing terrible damage to the institution.”
Conservatives are lining up other such votes — to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, to censure Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, who was the chairman of the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol — as they rush ahead with their agenda.
It’s all part of the right flank’s broader effort to steer control of the House away from the traditional centers of power, including the speaker’s office.
“This is what we were talking about,” said Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a leader in the conservative efforts to block McCarthy’s rise to speaker as they brokered greater say in the House process.
Behind closed doors Wednesday, McCarthy encouraged lawmakers to consider the traditional process for bringing such consequential legislation forward. He noted that House committees are probing Biden and his family, and McCarthy signaled that Boebert’s sudden move to file the impeachment measure was not part of that process.
The morning meeting was the most “somber” yet, said one Republican lawmaker, who was granted anonymity to discuss the closed-door session.
“It’s a tough vote,” said Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, who said he was sure he would be hearing from voters back home who want to impeach Biden.
“I can’t vote for the impeachment at this point because there’s been no investigation,” he said. “Everybody has to be given due process.”
Rank-and-file Republicans were angry at being forced into the position of having to vote on a resolution to impeach Biden even though they had not gone through the traditional process of an impeachment inquiry. They resented a single lawmaker jumping the queue of priorities.
In one fiery exchange overheard on the House floor, hard-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene laid into Boebert for taking the Biden impeachment on her own. Greene has her own articles of impeachment against the president.
Greene confirmed the exchange later and said of Boebert, “She has a great skill and talent for making most people here not like her.”
Boebert declined to comment about the conversation, only saying it's "not middle school."
“I wish the anger that’s been directed towards Ms. Boebert was directed towards the president and his policies,” said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., a member of the Freedom Caucus.
Hoping to quell the uprising, McCarthy's team worked furiously behind the scenes to engineer the possible solution. McCarthy met privately with Boebert. Then he met with Republicans on the House Rules Committee, which called a hasty session to set a procedural action in motion.
The full House is expected to vote Thursday on the agreement to send Boebert's Biden impeachment resolution to the Homeland Security and Judiciary committees.
Gaetz noted that when Democrats had control of the House they went through failed Trump impeachment efforts by renegade lawmakers before the majority backed the effort and the former president ultimately was impeached.
“That did help the Democrats build momentum, so maybe this is our version of that,” said Gaetz.
Trump was impeached twice — on corruption and obstruction charges over withholding military aid to Ukraine while seeking political dirt on Biden, and later on charges of inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol trying to overturn Biden's election. Both times, Trump was acquitted by the Senate.
Associated Press writers Farnoush Amiri and Stephen Groves contributed to this report.