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Governance Or Grievance—The House Under GOP Rule

House Republican leadership gather for a presser
Alex Wong/Getty Images

With control of the House now officially called for the Republicans, the natural question is:

“What will they do with their power?”

There are two principal directions this could go. Republicans could choose governance, that is, to address the questions they ran on like inflation, the economy, crime and immigration.

Or they could choose grievance, that is, to spend their time launching investigations and trying to impeach Biden administration officials as revenge for what they see as the political persecution of their leader, Donald Trump.

If yesterday’s pronouncements and press conferences are any indication, it looks like they’ve chosen grievance. Here’s an overview of how that will likely take shape and how Democrats can push back.

Hunter Biden and the Laptop of Doom

I honestly haven’t spent much time reading much of anything when it comes to Hunter Biden’s laptop or what it supposedly contains. There are so many conspiracies swirling around it that any reasoned discourse flies out the window fairly quickly.

The first thing anyone should know about that laptop is that it has been accessed by numerous persons since April 2019 when Hunter Biden first dropped it off at a repair shop, pollution what’s called a “chain of custody” over the evidence.

When chain of custody breaks, evidence cannot be said to be reliable because we simply don’t know who has had access.

Indeed, as the Washington Postreported, experts found:

“evidence that people other than Hunter Biden had accessed the drive and written files to it, both before and after the initial stories in the New York Post and long after the laptop itself had been turned over to the FBI.”

But the GOP is obsessed with email servers, and we should expect that they will want to subpoena Hunter Biden to testify about the communications on his laptop. They will likely also subpoena other people that he communicated with over the years with respect to his business dealings in China and Ukraine.

They are hoping to build upon their narrative of the “Biden Crime Family,” which no doubt is meant to blunt the impact of the investigations, civil suits and criminal prosecutions of the Trump family and/or those in their orbit.

Hunter Biden is not a government official. And there is no evidence I’ve seen that any of his actions are tied in some way to his father.

It will be interesting to see if his attorneys slow walk any subpoenas or even refuse to have him appear, as many Trump witnesses did, by arguing that harassing the son of the President is simply a proxy for harassing the President, which isn’t permitted.

It will also be interesting to see if the media repeats its habit of creating false equivalencies, granting as much headline space to Hunter Biden as it does to, say, the former President’s crimes around January 6 and the theft of national security level classified information.

You get an impeachment, and you get an impeachment, everybody gets an impeachment!

Trump is the only twice-impeached former President in our nation’s history. One way for the GOP to reduce the sting of that is to render the very act of impeachment so commonplace as to be a big nothing burger.

That’s one reason why far-right members of the GOP are eager to bring impeachment articles against multiple Democratic officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for his role in the “border crisis,” as well as Vice President Kamala Harris and even President Biden himself.

This is the “flood the zone” tactic that they have deployed in other contexts.

These impeachments, if they happen, are of course dead on arrival in the Senate, should they even succeed in the House. And even that last bit isn’t so assured.

There are a number of moderate GOP members, for example the members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers group, who really don’t want this to be the way the GOP spends its time. One way they can prevent that is for enough of them to threaten to vote “no” on any impeachment articles, or at least to insist that kitchen-table issues be prioritized first before politicized hearings or impeachments.

We’ll have to see if they make their new power in the evenly split House felt.

The GOP would be wise to remember the last time it held a majority in the House that spent its time going after the President rather than focusing on governing. That was when Bill Clinton was President, and they kept the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the headlines.

In the midterms of 1998, which normally should have swung against the party in the White House, the Democrats actually picked up five seats. That sent shockwaves through the GOP then, and they would do well to remember it now.

There’s a price to politicization of power. With their current razor thin majority, the GOP can’t afford to lose five seats in 2024.

In the Inevitiable Upcoming Hearings, Dems Should Push Back

One place the GOP hopes to score political points is in revisiting perceived failings of the Biden administration, particularly when it comes to the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the growing number of migrants crossing the border. This goal will be to put and keep the administration on the defense, but Democrats shouldn’t let them control the narrative.

On Afghanistan, beyond the botched withdrawal, many other topics will become fair game, including importantly new evidence that Trump sought intentionally to leave a bad mess for the next administration to clean up.

As the January 6 hearings revealed, Trump himself ordered a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan in the waning days of his presidency—an order that his military commanders basically ignored. And while there is little doubt that the initial evacuation of U.S. forces was mishandled, due in large part to the collapse of the Afghan government and military, there is also broad consensus among Americans that we needed to leave after 20 years of failing to defeat the Taliban and continuing to spend trillions in an unwinnable war.

How Biden’s military commanders and State Department respond to accusations of incompetence and negligence remains to be seen, but the broader case—that we had to leave, that everyone including Trump knew that we had to leave, and that it was never going to be simple or painless to leave—needs to be made clearly.

On the border, while it is easy for the GOP to criticize the problem, they have failed to offer any solutions beyond the ludicrous and unworkable “Build the Wall” effort by Trump.

As Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg aptly pointed out after Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis flew migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts in order to score political points:

“[I]t’s one thing to call attention to a problem when you have a course of action…it’s another thing to just call attention to a problem because the problem is actually more useful to you than the solution.”

Democrats will need more of this kind of astute response, one that calls out the playbook and the motives of the GOP perfectly, in order to push back effectively in the inevitable hearings.

Democrats should be saying to the GOP:

“Okay, we agree, it’s not a great situation at the border."
"So what’s your plan?”