Why an impeachment inquiry will likely lead to an impeachment vote

House Republicans did not need to launch an impeachment inquiry targeting President Joe Biden. In fact, propriety and common sense suggest the endeavor is ridiculous: GOP officials spent months trying to uncover incriminating evidence, and they failed spectacularly. Escalating matters, rather than finding a new hobby, is indefensible.

But as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced the inquiry this week, I was reminded of recent reporting that suggested GOP leaders had effectively boxed themselves in, to the point that they no longer felt they had a choice. CNN reported in early August that House Republicans had said privately that “if they don’t move forward with an impeachment inquiry now, it will create the impression that House Republicans have essentially cleared Biden of any wrongdoing.”

In other words, the party came to believe it had to launch an impeachment inquiry, not because of the facts, but because of perceptions. To follow the evidence might make the president look better, so the absence of evidence had to be ignored.

With this in mind, the editorial board of The Washington Post, in a piece that was broadly critical of the GOP’s gambit, noted in passing, “One potential scenario is that an impeachment vote will never come to the House floor.”

That, is of course, a possible outcome. Maybe Republicans will proceed with their inquiry, struggle once again to find anything useful, realize that they lack the votes to pass articles of impeachment, and conclude the smart move is to simply let this whole fiasco quietly fade away.

But I wouldn’t count on it. Punchbowl News reported the day after McCarthy’s announcement:

The reality for the 58-year-old, nine-term McCarthy is that once he opens an impeachment inquiry, it’s almost guaranteed that House Republicans will impeach Biden. Remember, a sizable number of Republicans were ready to impeach before the inquiry even began. And once the House has begun the process, not impeaching Biden will look like a validation of the president to many rank-and-file lawmakers.

A related Politico report added, “Opening an inquiry then failing to follow through would be a major political boon to Biden — essentially, a tacit admission by the GOP that he’s innocent.”

In other words, Republicans felt pressured to launch an impeachment inquiry because they didn’t want the public to believe the president is innocent, and they’re now likely to move forward with actual impeachment votes because they still don’t want the public to believe the president is innocent.

The fact that Biden appears to be entirely and genuinely innocent is a nagging detail that GOP officials are prepared to treat as entirely irrelevant.