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Biden Impeachment: At-Risk Republicans Thread the Needle in Inquiry Vote

All 221 Republicans backed a formal impeachment hearing of President Joe Biden in one of the last votes cast by the US House of Representatives before members travelled home for winter break.

Republican leaders obtained the unanimous support they sought, but it was more politically perilous for some lawmakers than others. Vulnerable Republicans representing divided districts will now have to defend their support of an investigation that many of their constituents could consider deeply partisan.

BBC News contacted the 17 Republicans representing districts that President Biden won in 2020. Political analysts and pollsters – as well as Democratic opponents – believe these House members to be at most risk of losing their seats ahead of the upcoming 2024 US election.

How these House members walk this political tight-rope over Mr Biden’s impeachment inquiry could help decide whether Democrats or Republicans control the House of Representatives next year, they said. It’s a particular challenge with Republicans maintaining a razor-thin majority in the House.

“It’s a problem, because they’re already facing an uphill battle in a swing district,” said Dan Judy, a Republican pollster with North Star Opinion Research.

The push to impeach Mr Biden stems from Republicans’ years-long investigations into his son, Hunter Biden, who they have accused of using his father’s name to pursue illegal or unethical business dealings.

While Hunter Biden was recently charged by the Justice Department over tax violations, months of Republican investigations have seemingly failed to implicate the president in related wrongdoing.

Mr Judy warned swing or independent voters who his party needs to win over could question whether “an impeachment inquiry is the best use of the government’s finite time and resources”.

Most of the lawmakers appeared to understand that calculus and shared cautious statements or remained silent when asked about the vote. Those who spoke up framed their decision not as a full-throated endorsement of impeaching Mr Biden, but as a vote in favour of granting the House greater investigatory power.

“This inquiry allows relevant committees to get more information on serious allegations, follow the facts, and be transparent with the American people,” Rep Young Kim of California said in a statement to BBC News.

Rep Young Kim

Ms Kim flipped her Southern California seat from Democrat to Republican in 2020 by a very narrow margin; that same year, Mr Biden won her district by nearly 2%.

After the vote, the Democratic political committee in charge of winning back the US House rushed out individual attacks against each vulnerable lawmaker who voted to advance an impeachment inquiry. Ms Kim was among those targeted.

“With today’s vote, Kim just told the American people that delivering for them doesn’t matter as much as doing Donald Trump’s bidding,” Dan Gottlieb of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a statement.

A New York state of divide

Nowhere are the stakes potentially higher than among New York representatives. There are currently five Republicans in the state representing districts that Mr Biden won.

Republicans made gains in New York state in 2022 over suburban voters’ frustrations with issues like crime and the economy, which they blamed on Mr Biden. These freshmen legislators now face newly redrawn districts in 2024 that are expected to favour Democrats.

That has put them in a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” scenario, said Evan Stavisky, a Democratic strategist in the state.

Proving that dichotomy, one of the New York lawmakers, Rep. Mike Lawler, hewed to the argument made by party leaders. They had won over holdouts by insisting that this vote would put investigators in the strongest legal position to gather evidence and witness testimony.

“Is it enough to impeach the president today? No. Not for me,” Mr Lawler said of the inquiry in a statement issued by his office.

Rep Mike Lawler

But it was “the White House’s refusal to turn over additional information”, the Republican congressman said, that had “necessitated a more formal approach to get the whole truth”.

Nevertheless, Mr Stavisky warned “when either party gets out too far ahead of their skis, there’s a natural tendency on the part of the electorate to revert to the mean”.

Voter polling mixed on impeachment

Americans’ views on who may be on the wrong side of the debate remains mixed.

About 35% of American adults said Mr Biden did something illegal, while another 33% believe Mr Biden did something unethical but not illegal, an October Associated Press and National Opinion Research Center poll found.

But those responses are split clearly along party lines with two-thirds of Republican voters believing President Biden did something illegal related to his son’s business dealings. Nearly 60% of Democrats, meanwhile, believe the president is innocent.

Only a third of Americans currently support the Republicans’ impeachment inquiry, the same poll showed, with significant splits along party lines.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which works to elect Republican House members, would not comment on the record about how this could affect its candidates, but a spokesperson highlighted the AP’s polling in an email to the BBC.

Despite the political risks, Mr Judy and other Republican analysts insisted that it was too early to write any political obituaries for these House members just yet.

“With over a year to go, this vote in and of itself is not going to move the needle next year on these races,” he said.

Source : BBC