House GOP's 1st Biden impeachment hearing was 'an unmitigated disaster'

House Republicans kicked off their effort to impeach President Biden, and there is general agreement it did not go well

Reps. Jamie Raskin, James Comer and Jason Smith
Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), James Comer (R-Ky.) and Jason Smith (R-Mo.)
(Image credit: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

The House Oversight Committee held its first hearing Thursday in an impeachment inquiry House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) recently launched against President Biden. Committee chair Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) said House Republicans have "a mountain of evidence revealing how Joe Biden abused his public office for his family’s financial gain." But "multiple witnesses called by the majority undercut the GOP's core message against Biden," Politico noted, and none presented any evidence to back up the GOP's claims. 

"I do not believe that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment," said conservative law professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, one of three GOP witnesses.

Even as the hearing was underway, The New York Times reported, some Republicans "privately fretted" that Comer "did not appear in control of the proceedings and had undercut his own narrative by calling witnesses who did not fully support it." One senior GOP aide told CNN the hearing was "an unmitigated disaster," adding: "Picking witnesses that refute House Republicans arguments for impeachment is mind blowing."

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"If the Republicans had a smoking gun or even a dripping water pistol, they would be presenting it today," Rep. Jamie Rankin (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the committee, said at the hearing. Instead, "the majority sits completely empty handed with no evidence of any presidential wrongdoing, no smoking gun, no gun, no smoke."

Legal and constitutional experts said this is the first impeachment inquiry based on speculation rather than actual evidence of high crimes or misdemeanors. The lone Democratic witness, University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt, said "a fishing expedition is not a legitimate purpose" to launch an impeachment inquiry.

McCarthy "appears to have calculated that moving to impeach Biden will appease a powerful group of far-right House Republicans who could rather easily remove him as speaker," The Washington Post reported.

If so, it backfired, Rankin told CNN after the hearing. "I know there was a lot of consternation and alarm on the Republican side to see how weak the case was," he said. "Several Republicans were saying to me that the right wing is now saying that Kevin McCarthy actually set it up to be a failure because he didn’t want to proceed with impeachment. They couldn't believe that such a disaster would just happen by accident."

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