WASHINGTON — Before House Speaker Kevin McCarthy unilaterally launched an impeachment inquiry, center-right Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., urged his party not to go down that road, saying it was “too early” given the lack of evidence against President Joe Biden.
But two days after McCarthy made that decision last week, Bacon, who represents an Omaha-based district that voted for Biden in 2020, shifted his tone and said he wasn’t taking issue with it.
“If there’s a high crime or misdemeanor, well, let’s get the facts,” Bacon told NBC News, adding that he had been “hesitant” about it earlier — but now it’s done, and he stands by McCarthy, R-Calif.
“I don’t think it’s healthy or good for our country. So I wanted to set a high bar. I want to do it carefully. I want to do it conscientiously, do it meticulously,” Bacon said. “But it’s been done. So, at this point, we’ll see what the facts are.”
His remarks represent a trend: McCarthy’s decision to proceed with the impeachment inquiry has faced scant public pushback from House Republicans, even though many of them objected to taking that momentous step. The softening of stances is the latest example of swing-district and center-right Republicans standing by their leadership team, even as it bends to pressure from far-right lawmakers to take actions that could backfire politically on these more centrist members and endanger their competitive seats.
If those same far-right lawmakers try to overthrow McCarthy for failing to meet their demands on other issues, like spending, Bacon made it clear he and others would protect McCarthy. “There’s 200 of us or so, maybe more, that will stick by the speaker,” Bacon said.
In the 2024 election cycle, Democrats will be targeting the seats of the 18 Republicans who represent districts Biden won, with the hope of recapturing control of the House. The man in charge of protecting the GOP majority, Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., said he supports the inquiry but hasn’t seen enough evidence to actually impeach the president.
“I’ve seen enough that we need to continue to ask questions,” Hudson, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in an interview. “But I think we just need to continue to talk about what we’ve found and keep looking. And let’s follow the facts. And if the facts show the president is innocent, then let’s tell the American people that’s the case.”
GOP sees ‘smoke’ but no ‘fire’ with Biden
Another skeptic of an impeachment inquiry was Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, who chairs the center-right Republican Governance Group, and said last month he hadn’t seen any “facts” to justify such a step.
But after McCarthy greenlighted the inquiry, Joyce had no complaints.
“I support Speaker McCarthy’s decision to direct the House Committees on Oversight, Judiciary, and Ways and Means to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden,” he said in a statement, adding that he’s “confident” the committee leaders in charge “will conduct thoughtful and thorough investigations into allegations against the President, which I will carefully review.”
Other impeachment-inquiry critics in the group of the “Biden 18” Republicans, who represent the crossover districts, include Reps. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa. Their offices didn’t return emails seeking comment on whether they support McCarthy’s decision to launch the inquiry.
Notably, other Republicans in Biden-won districts supported pursuing an impeachment inquiry. That includes Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., who said the international business dealings and transgressions of Biden’s son Hunter Biden create “a requirement to seek truth and to seek accountability” for the House in terms of exploring so far unproven links to the president.
“There’s smoke there, right? So we have a requirement to go investigate that to see if there’s actually fire there,” he said.
McCarthy opened the inquiry by himself, bypassing a vote of the House as it was unclear he had enough votes to succeed in his paper-thin Republican majority with Democrats opposed. But Garcia said he would have voted “yes” to launch such an inquiry.
“I would have voted for it,” Garcia said. “That’s the great fallacy. There seems to be this national narrative that people in swing districts don’t want accountability and truth. That’s not the case.”
But he also said that in the end, “if it’s not substantiated, we should oppose” proceeding to articles of impeachment.
Rep. Young Kim, R-Calif., who represents an Orange County district, did not object to McCarthy’s impeachment inquiry, although she sought to keep her distance. In a statement provided by her office on Monday afternoon, Kim said it “allows the relevant committees,” which she noted she doesn’t serve on, to “get more information on serious allegations.”
“We’ve seen impeachment be rushed and politicized, and this will ensure we instead follow the facts and are transparent with the American people,” Kim said, adding that she will be “monitoring” the probe while working to “deliver results for my constituents.”
Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., who represents a Hudson Valley district, said he supports the inquiry, but his focus is elsewhere.
“When there’s questions or impropriety, it’s the appropriate responsibility of Congress to be the check and balance on the administration,” Molinaro said after McCarthy launched the inquiry. “I didn’t come here to impeach anybody, but the responsibility of Congress is to provide the appropriate oversight.”
But now that the House has begun the impeachment inquiry, failing to move forward with articles of impeachment would be sure to spark a rebellion from far-right Republicans. Many of them are already prepared to impeach Biden even though the House has yet to produce evidence implicating him in bribery or abuse of power. They believe that a failure to impeach would give their GOP base the impression that they’re exonerating Biden.
“The American people support impeachment of Joe Biden and an investigation of the entire family and every person who covered it up,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a McCarthy ally who introduced articles of impeachment against Biden over a different issue the day after he was sworn in as president, said Tuesday on X, formerly Twitter. “It’s time to hold Democrats accountable.”
Sahil Kapur is a senior national political reporter for NBC News.