Central to the GOP’s impeachment effort is the idea that then-Vice President Biden’s push to oust Ukraine prosecutor general Viktor Shokin in 2015 was corrupt. To hear members of Buck’s party and conservative media tell it, that’s because Shokin was looking into Burisma, the Ukrainian company whose board included Hunter Biden.
As Buck takes care to emphasize, repeatedly:
The dominant narrative in right-wing media is that Shokin was an anti-corruption zealot with an active investigation into Burisma, the company where Hunter Biden held a seat on the board of directors, and from which he reportedly received large monthly payments.
The truth about Shokin is much more complicated and runs counter to the GOP’s “gotcha” narrative. In reality, Shokin was deeply enmeshed in Ukraine’s culture of corruption and, far from being a beacon of transparency, was viewed by many in the West — including some conservative Republican senators — as an obstacle to anti-corruption reforms. There is, in fact, no evidence that Shokin was engaged in an investigation of Burisma, or that Joe Biden’s role in his firing was in any way connected to Burisma.
Not content to let the point pass in a couple of paragraphs, Buck continued:
These facts — like all facts — are stubborn things.
Republicans in the House who are itching for an impeachment are relying on an imagined history. Their inquiry, formally announced by Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday, rests heavily on a fictitious version of Shokin’s career, with the alleged investigation of Burisma at the center. It’s a neat story, and one that performs well in certain media circles. But impeachment is a serious matter and should have a foundation of rock-solid facts.
“The GOP’s ‘gotcha’ narrative.” “No evidence.” “Itching for an impeachment.” “An imagined history.” “A fictitious version of Shokin’s career.”
Buck could have just said it’s too early to be talking about impeachment. He could have said the alleged offenses aren’t impeachable. Instead, he went after the supposed facts underlying impeachment, accusing his own allies of effectively inventing a justification to do something they already wanted to do. (Indeed, Buck predicted 17 months ago that Republicans would impeach Biden.)
And this is coming from a man normally allied with those who are most actively forcing the impeachment issues: the Freedom Caucus.
Buck is certainly the most outspoken among the GOP’s impeachment inquiry critics, but he’s hardly the only one. A number of them spoke out in advance of McCarthy’s announcement last week. A handful have offered qualified support for the inquiry since then, but it’s evident plenty are just saying the evidence is simply not there.
Which is not where we were with Trump’s impeachments.
Trump’s first impeachment — also focused on Ukraine — was a particularly slow build.
By the time then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the inquiry in late September 2019, a CNN whip count showed 158 House Democrats had called for one, more than two-thirds of the party’s conference.
The morning of her announcement, the effort got a shot in the arm thanks to a letter from seven of the most politically vulnerable House Democrats — a contrast to how reluctant vulnerable House Republicans have been this time around.
At the time, there was little in the way of an effort to prevent the party from going down that road before it did. About the most outspoken member was Rep. Jeff Van Drew (N.J.), who appeared on Fox News days later and said there was “nothing that has turned up that truly is impeachable.” But that was after Pelosi’s announcement. (Van Drew would become a Republican less than three months later.)
The only other vote against the impeachment inquiry, when Pelosi ultimately held one in October, was from then-Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.), who late in his tenure represented the most Trump-friendly district held by a Democrat.
A handful of vulnerable Democrats kept their powder dry after Pelosi pushed forward, but almost nobody spoke out in advance like Buck or Reps. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and Michael Lawler (R-N.Y.) to question the evidence — even as Democrats were clearly queuing up a possible inquiry.
This would appear to be a reflection of where the public at large is. While polling when Pelosi announced the Trump inquiry showed a slight majority of Americans and independents supported that decision and about an even split on ultimately impeaching Trump, early polling shows the Biden inquiry is quite short of majority support, and Americans tilt against ultimately impeaching him.
That could certainly change as the investigation progresses. But there is far less direct evidence to point to when it comes to Biden’s actual conduct, which has often been the subject of patently false or baseless claims or speculative theories — after months of Republicans floating them.
There is also far less margin for error, with McCarthy able to spare only around five votes — compared to the 15 or so Pelosi could lose.
And if one of those five members happens to be in the House Freedom Caucus, of all caucuses, effectively accusing his party of imagining its case for impeachment, that’s going to significantly compromise the effort.