Nothing stood still as President Biden told supporters that democracy, properly defined, “means the rule of the people, not the rule of monarchs, not rule of money, not the rule of the mighty.”
As he spoke in Tempe, Ariz, a federal court was denying former President Trump's request to delay his trial in a civil fraud case, House Republicans were alleging that Biden was at the center of a multi-million-dollar influence scheme, and the federal government moved closer to a shutdown.
“We lose these institutions of our government,” Biden warned in Arizona, “at our own peril.” But the sermon is late. The public has already lost faith in federal institutions. It has been that way for more than two decades.
Only 20% of Americans, according to Pew Research, trust Washington to do the right thing. And thousands of miles away from where Biden spoke, Rep. Glenn Grothman worried on Capitol Hill that “Americans are beginning to think that this behavior by the Biden family is normal.” In committee, the Wisconsin Republican warned that the public was susceptible “to just say, ‘this is how it works.’”
Out west, Biden delivered his fourth teaching on the importance of democracy, the preservation of which he now describes as his defining mission and the motivation for remaining in office even as his poll numbers plummet. Concurrently, in the House Oversight Committee, Republicans appealed to similar democratic norms while launching their first presidential impeachment inquiry hearing.
The president never mentioned this. Instead, he read aloud from the social media account of his predecessor. Biden condemned Trump for saying that NBC was guilty of “treason,” and he condemned Trump for calling for the execution of Gen. Mark Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mostly Biden condemned Republicans for not condemning Trump. “The silence,” he said, “is deafening.”
“There is something dangerous happening in America,” Biden said. “There’s an extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs in our democracy.” He explained that what he meant by this was “the MAGA movement,” and he qualified that “not every Republican” adhered to this ideology, “but there's no question that today's Republican Party is driven and intimidated by MAGA Republican extremists.” The sermon wasn’t complete. Biden didn’t provide any examples of Republicans he didn’t consider extremists.
The opposition may not be in the mood to take seriously the warnings of a president who, not long ago, compared opponents of his voting rights bill to segregationists and traitors like George Wallace, Bull Connor, and Jefferson Davis. Some Republicans, Biden said last summer, were “semi-fascist.”
The testimony on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, was also not comprehensive. No sooner had Republicans sworn in Jonathan Turley as a witness than the law professor publicly cast doubt on the conclusion of the proceedings. He welcomed the inquiry into potential wrongdoing, given how he said Biden had “spoken falsely” about his family’s business dealings. “I do not believe,” he continued, “that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment.”
Another bucket of cold water: Turley pointed to the previous two impeachments and told lawmakers that “the shortening intervals” between them “should be a cause of concern and circumspection for all the members, on both sides.”
Ranking Democratic committee member Jamie Raskin described the impeachment inquiry as a product of “Speaker McCarthy's inveterate appeasement of the most fanatical elements of his conference.” Allegations against the current president, Raskin maintained, were “long debunked” and a “discredited lie.”
Freshman Rep. Max Frost similarly looked past sworn testimony that Hunter Biden had done business on the strength of his last name as “the family brand.” The Florida Democrat insisted, despite evidence of Hunter allegedly using his family name to secure contracts in China, Ukraine, and Russia, that “the only thing the president can be guilty of here is being a father.”
Led by Chairman James Comer, Republicans noted that Hunter Biden received hundreds of thousands of dollars in wire transfers from China and that the beneficiary’s home was listed as the residence of then former Vice President Biden.
“We all know what this payment’s really for. It's for influence peddling and selling the Biden brand,” Comer said, alleging that Hunter Biden sold access to his father and that his father aided him throughout his time as vice president.
“For years, President Biden has lied to the American people about his knowledge of and participation in his family's corrupt business schemes. At least ten times, Joe Biden lied to the American people that he never spoke to his family about their business dealings. He lied by telling the American people that there was an absolute wall between his official government duties and his personal life,” Comer said.
And in particular, Republicans repeatedly noted how the Biden administration, from former White House chief of staff Ron Klain to former press secretary Jen Psaki, repeated the claim that Hunter Biden and his father never discussed business. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, likened that denial to “Nixonian abuse of power.”
The federal government will run out of funds at the beginning of next month. The White House kept up a steady drumbeat from afar about the dangers of a shutdown while Democrats displayed screens throughout the hearing with a countdown clock. Republicans, often at war with themselves, have struggled, meanwhile, to unite around a way to keep the lights on.
Raskin accused Republicans of advancing impeachment to distract from that looming shutdown, citing Trump’s inaccurate claim that the House could defund his federal prosecutors. “They just want to see the world burn,” he said.
Biden repeated nearly the same thing outside Phoenix, alleging that “extremists in Congress” were “more determined to shut down the government, to burn the place down than to let the people’s business be done.” He said in Arizona that Republicans were motivated by “vengeance and vindictiveness.”
Comer insisted on Capitol Hill that Republicans were simply bringing what was done in the dark out into the light. Because of his wealth, status, and connections, Republicans alleged, the son of the president was afforded an undemocratic advantage.
“The American people,” he said, “demand accountability for this culture of corruption.”