Senate GOP pours cold water on idea of impeaching Biden

Senate Republicans are pouring cold water on the idea that President Biden’s classified documents controversy rises to the level of an impeachable offense, heading off House conservatives looking for revenge after former President Trump’s two trials.

Even before Tuesday’s revelation that about a dozen classified documents had been found at former Vice President Mike Pence’s Indiana home, GOP senators were cool to the idea of impeachment. 

“I don’t think you want to get into where it’s a tit for tat, every two years or four years you’re dealing with impeachment proceedings in the House and Senate,” Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) told The Hill. “There has to be a really good reason, obviously, the constitutional reasons and grounds for that. So we’ll see where it goes.” 

Asked whether Biden’s possession of classified documents has the potential to rise to the level of an impeachable offense, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an adviser to the Senate GOP leadership team, gave a simple answer: “No.” 

Many Republicans thought the Democrats’ first impeachment of Trump over delaying military aide to Ukraine was a partisan overreach. But that means they are also wary of doing the same thing now that their party has the House majority.

It’s just one of several tension points emerging between Republicans in the two chambers.  

Senate Republicans have mostly ignored chatter in the House about impeaching Biden’s secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, or wiping out the tax code and replacing it with a 23 percent to 30 percent national sales tax. 

Some Republicans think talk of impeaching Biden will grow in the House, even though GOP senators warn that it’s a bad idea. 

House Republicans introduced more than a dozen impeachment resolutions against Biden in the last Congress, and the GOP-controlled House Judiciary Committee has already initiated an investigation of Biden’s handling of classified documents, which could lay the ground for future impeachment proceedings.  

Trump has also come under criticism for a separate classified documents controversy, but House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in an interview with Fox Business argued that Biden’s handling of classified documents was more egregious because the former Republican president at least secured the classified information he held with padlocks.

“That’s much different than what we’re finding now with President Biden, and I think it is severely going to cause him a great deal of trouble in the future as we get more of the truth,” McCarthy told Fox host Larry Kudlow. 

A few Senate Republicans entertain the idea that the classified documents found at Biden’s Delaware home and former Washington, D.C., office would lead to a Senate impeachment trial. 

“This actually might be an impeachable offense. If there’s a high crime and misdemeanor standard, which there is, this is the closest thing to one in recent years,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). “If the special counsel comes up with anything, realizing [Biden’s] a sitting president, I suppose they could draft up what would become articles of impeachment, depending on what they find.” 

Cramer said “I personally hate impeachments” but thinks the standard has changed since House Democrats impeached Trump in 2019 after he held up aid to Ukraine to use as leverage to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden’s family’s business dealings in the country.  

Only one Republican senator, Mitt Romney (Utah), voted to convict on an article of impeachment during Trump’s 2020 Senate trial.  

Cramer said “Democrats created an impeachment cycle and we may be in that cycle,” calling Trump’s first impeachment “far-fetched and silly.”  

He said House Republicans now need to decide whether they want to keep the impeachment bar as low as they believe Democrats set it in 2019 or whether to elevate it to cover only the most serious crimes.  

The documents found at Pence’s home would further muddy any attempt to argue that Biden’s possession of classified documents meets the standard of high crimes and misdemeanors. 

Romney on Tuesday said it will be hard for House Republicans to credibly push an article of impeachment against Biden for keeping classified documents at his Delaware home after Pence admitted the same transgression.  

“I can’t imagine that’s where it’s going to head with so many people in the same arena,” he said.  

Some key Senate Republicans, such as Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (Fla.), are already on record downplaying Trump’s possession of classified documents at his Florida home as a “storage” issue.  

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday dismissed a question about whether Biden’s possession of classified documents could rise to the level of an impeachable offense.  

“I don’t have an answer to that hypothetical. I do think that the Justice Department seems to be willing to treat everybody the same and to try to retrieve the documents, and obviously it’s not a great idea to take classified documents away from the archives. We’ll see how they continue to handle it,” he said.   

Republican senators say it should be up to Robert Hur, the special counsel appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland, to decide whether Biden should be charged with a crime, not House Republicans, who filed more than a dozen articles of impeachment against Biden in the last Congress.  

“It could be a criminal offense,” Cornyn said. “That’s what the special counsel is for. Mishandling classified materials is very serious.”   

Garland appointed special counsel Jack Smith in November to oversee the Justice Department’s investigation of Trump’s handling of classified documents and whether he unlawfully interfered with the 2021 transfer of presidential power.  

Cornyn, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, blasted some Democrats for “hypocrisy” by trying to minimize Biden’s culpability after hammering Trump for months after the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago in August to retrieve classified documents.  

“The thing that’s made this such a story is the hypocrisy, [Democrats] attacking Trump,” he said. “Nobody should take classified materials outside of a secure facility, period.”   

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said fellow Republicans should “be careful” about “knee-jerking to impeachment.”  

“I think the country will fatigue of that,” he said, pointing out that recent impeachment proceedings against former Presidents Clinton and Trump “have not ended up with any real result.”  

“If you start doing it on everything, I think it would be bad politically and for the mechanics of government working,” he said.  

Democrats picked up five House seats in the 1998 midterm elections as the Republican majority was in the midst of gearing up to impeach Clinton, marking a rare instance when the president’s party picked up House seats in the middle of a second term.  

Republicans picked up 14 House seats in the 2020 election after Democrats impeached Trump at the end of 2019.

Democrats express alarm over Biden classified docs: ‘I’m very concerned’

Democrats are expressing alarm over President Biden’s classified documents controversy, with some criticizing the president as diminished in stature and his staff as irresponsible.

“I’m very concerned,” said Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.), one of several incumbent Democrats who face potentially difficult reelection races next year in reliably GOP states in presidential elections.

“We have to get to the bottom of it to find out what the hell happened, why it happened,” he said.

“This is about national security,” Tester added, saying investigators need to find out if “it put our national security at risk.”

Biden’s January has been submerged in revelation after revelation of classified documents found at his former office and home. Most recently, 11 more documents were found during a search at Biden’s Wilmington, Del., home on Friday.

The drip-drip-drip nature of the findings has left Democrats and Republicans alike wondering whether there will be more documents found and has left the White House looking off-balance at times.

Biden emerged from the 2022 midterms in a stronger position after Democrats gained a seat in the Senate and held down their losses in the House. Democrats still see Biden as their most likely standard-bearer, and lawmakers in his party have been quick to contrast his handling of classified documents with former President Trump — who is dealing with his own controversy.

At the same time, there’s little doubt the issue has raised some questions for Biden and the White House just as his team prepared to move forward with an expected presidential announcement later this year.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who like Tester is up for reelection next year in a state that Trump won easily in 2020, blasted the lax handling of secret information as “unbelievable” and “totally irresponsible.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on Sept. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, File)

Biden’s attempt to dismiss the building scandal last week by asserting “there’s no there there” also drew a barb from Manchin.

He told CNN on Monday “that’s just not a good statement,” adding “we just don’t know” what secrets may have been compromised.

Criticism from Manchin is hardly unheard of, but Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who represents a safer state for Democrats, was also somewhat critical on Sunday. He said the controversy “diminishes” Biden and noted the president rightly felt “embarrassed by the situation.”

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) on November 15, 2022. (Greg Nash)

Durbin on Monday said of the White House: “They were not careful in handling classified documents.”

“When I think of how we deal with them in the Capitol in comparison, whoever was responsible for it didn’t follow the basic rules,” Durbin said of the handling of classified documents.

Durbin said he never took a classified document out of his office, “let alone out of the building.”

Yet Durbin, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stopped short of speculating whether Biden committed a potential crime, telling reporters: “I wouldn’t go that far.”

House Republicans are saber-rattling over the issue, signaling they intend to use their newly won oversight powers to look into the Biden documents story in a more aggressive way than they looked into Trump’s controversy.

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the new chair of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, has requested that the Secret Service hand over all the information it has on visitors to Biden’s Delaware home in the time since he served as vice president.

The request — made to Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle on Monday — came after Comer demanded that visitor logs for the residence be turned over. The White House said last week that such records do not exist.

Later on Monday, White House counsel Stuart Delery wrote to Comer that the administration does not have possession of the documents the National Archives and Department of Justice have taken as part of the investigation into Biden’s handling of classified materials.

Delery pledged to “accommodate legitimate oversight interests” in response to Comer’s request.

One GOP strategist said Republicans will go after Biden aggressively given the Trump controversy.

“The House is going to have a field day with investigations because of the fact that the Biden administration has been so outspoken criticizing Trump for the exact thing,” said Brian Darling, a former Senate aide.

Darling said the House could vote on articles of impeachment if the special prosecutor or House investigators find Biden broken the law or jeopardized national security.

“It’s possible. It depends on how the hearings go in the House. I think it’s quite possible that there will be discussion about impeachment because Democrats seemed so open to the idea of impeachment against President Trump and we’ve seen a lot of the payback from many of the things that happened when Democrats controlled the House, like kicking members off committees,” he said.

Durbin told reporters he expects House Republicans to go overboard in trying to tear down Biden, just as they did when they tried to blame former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the death of four Americans at a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said Biden’s possession of classified documents now effectively “completely neutralizes” Democratic attacks against Trump for holding sensitive material in Florida.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) on Tuesday, November 29, 2022. (Greg Nash)

“I’m not sure I understand all the laws that pertain to classified documents. I know the procedures that apply, but it seems to me the Justice Department is going to have to sort all that out and I think right now it’s still an evolving situation,” he said.

Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), a senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said the careful handling of classified documents should always be a top priority and declared: “All of the circumstances are going to be examined …. So there’s a message that nobody is above the law.” 

“The rule that I follow scrupulously is you don’t take documents out of the room,” he said. “Obviously there’s a lot of information coming out and I want to wait and see what the facts are. 

But Wyden also gave Biden some political cover by drawing a distinction with Trump.  

“One point that I don’t believe is in contention is President Biden has voluntarily cooperated and the former president did not,” he said. 

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who faces a competitive re-election in a Republican-leaning state, urged the administration to be as transparent as possible.  

“There’s nothing that’s betrayal of national interest, there’s nothing he’s trying to hide but they need to come out with all of it,” he said. “He’s got to deal with it and get it over with.” 

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) expressed frustration that the media attention surrounding the classified documents scandal threatens to eclipse the congressional agenda.  

“It’s being looked at to the nth degree,” he said. “I’m concerned that I think we’re wasting an awful lot of effort on something that has a special prosecutor look[ing] into it and at the end of the day it looks like all you’re going to find is some sloppiness. We have real problems to work on,” he said. 

White House charges GOP with hypocrisy on Trump, Biden 

The White House blasted Republicans on Tuesday, accusing them of hypocrisy with how they’ve handled the separate controversies surrounding classified documents found at President Biden’s garage and office and former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence.  

In a call with reporters, White House aides accused the GOP of engaging in “political theater” by attacking Biden while giving a free pass to Trump.  

“The president and his team have been fully cooperating, acting responsibly and ensuring that this is handled properly,” said Ian Sams, a spokesman for the White House Counsel's Office. “You’ve seen something far different emerging among elected Republicans. What are they doing? They’ve decided that it’s time for more political stunts and theater.“  

The call was set up after a difficult week for the White House that found Democrats struggling at times to explain why documents had been taken to Biden’s garage and office, and why the public hadn’t been told about them until Jan. 10 — when the news first broke about the discovery. 

The White House first discovered that classified documents from Biden’s time as vice president had been taken to the Penn Biden Center in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 2 — before the midterm elections and after Biden and other Democrats had blasted Trump over classified documents at Mar-a-Lago found earlier in the year. 

The White House Counsel’s Office notified the National Archives of the discovery days later and the Archives then notified the Department of Justice. Attorney General Merrick Garland last week appointed a special counsel to look into the issue after Garland had previously appointed a special counsel to look into the Trump classified documents matter. 

On Tuesday, days after House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) asked if the White House had a visitor log for Biden’s Wilmington, Del., residence, Biden’s team sought to go on offense by accusing the GOP overreaching on the issue.  

Comer, in an interview with CNN, also called Biden’s residence a “crime scene” after the classified documents were discovered at Biden’s home.  

Sams and others say the GOP fury over the found Biden documents stands in sharp contrast to the more blasé reaction many Republicans had to the discovery of classified documents at Trump’s home.  

Democrats also have argued the two situations are very different because of the level of cooperation Biden has sought to maintain in alerting the Archives to the discovery. Trump, in contrast, largely stiff-armed the Archives, they say.  

In addition, the documents at Mar-a-Lago were in a Florida estate where hundreds of guests come and go for social occasions.  

“They’re faking outrage even though they defended the former president’s actions,” Sams told reporters on Tuesday. 

White House aides and allies pointed to the irony of Comer’s remarks in August when he brushed off Trump’s possession of classified materials.  

“What I’ve seen that the National Archives was concerned about Trump having in his possession didn’t amount to a hill of beans,” Comer told Newsmax at the time.  

In November, Comer also told CNN that a House investigation into Trump’s Mar-a-Lago documents would “not be a priority.”  

Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), who served as the chief investigator in the first impeachment of Trump, told The Hill it’s “just the latest example of House Republicans abusing their oversight authority and demanding things they have argued against in the past.  

“The American people are tired of Republican hypocrisy and Chairman Comer is not off to a good start, he said. 

Basil Smikle, a Democratic strategist and the director of the public policy program at Hunter College, said Republicans like Comer were “willing to shield Trump from any public of governmental scrutiny while he was president but are hypocritically intent upon using all available congressional power at their disposal to unpack Biden’s life, shame him and discredit Democrats.”  

In many ways, White House officials and their allies are happy to have this fight with Republicans, allies say because they are taking the bet that Trump’s baggage on this issue is worse than their own and has the potential of backfiring.  

White House allies say Republicans will have a tough time explaining why Trump held on to the documents and then resisted the FBI. Biden, on the other hand has fully cooperated with the Department of Justice and the appointed special counsel.  

“It’s ludicrous,” one Democratic strategist close to the White House said of the GOP. 

“Do they really want to go there?" said one Democratic strategist close to the White House. "Didn't their guy have many more documents at his home? Didn't he try and stop people from taking them back?” 

Republicans have used the controversy to blunt Biden’s trajectory weeks ahead of his expected announcement for reelection. They’ve sought to use the episode to paint Biden as corrupt. 

“The Biden are just a Delaware version of the Sopranos,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote on Twitter.  

Republican strategist Doug Heye said it’s fair game.  

“Congress tends not to deeply investigate a White House of the same party,” Heye said. “That was true of Democrats last Congress and of Republicans under Trump.“ 

And he predicted that the controversy wouldn’t backfire on the GOP.  

“This cuts at Biden’s argument that he and his team of pros won’t make the mistakes Trump and his Addams Family team made — on something Biden specifically criticized. And when Democrats say, but Trump was worse, well, okay but now you’re talking degrees and if you’re explaining you’re losing.”