(Bloomberg) -- Congressional Republicans are divided over whether the House should embark on an impeachment inquiry involving President Joe Biden while polls show voters are more concerned about the economy.
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House lawmakers from the most conservative districts are keen to rev up the voters back home — and ward off potential primary challengers — with an impeachment probe. Senate GOP leaders, eying an election next year chock full of vulnerable Democrats, want to focus instead on the economy because that’s what moves independents seen as key to winning close races.
“If I’m running against Sherrod Brown in Ohio, I don’t want to be talking about impeaching Joe Biden,” said Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee spokesman and House Republican leadership aide. “I want to be talking about why Ohio manufacturing jobs aren’t where they should be.”
Tensions among Republicans over pursuing a Biden impeachment have flared in recent weeks as scrutiny intensifies on his son, Hunter Biden, with the election a little more than a year away. On Friday, US Attorney General Merrick Garland made the prosecutor investigating the younger Biden a special counsel, meaning the legal drama could continue into the election year.
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Florida Republican Greg Steube, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, that same day became the third House Republican to file articles of impeachment against the president, alleging he’s deeply tied to allegations and investigations surrounding his son.
Critics of the president have cited his management of the Mexican border and possible involvement in his son’s foreign business dealings as potential grounds for impeachment.
So far, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has held off on a final decision about an impeachment inquiry, though he strongly suggested last month before lawmakers left for recess that a probe could begin, citing concerns over Biden family finances and allegations of corruption involving Hunter Biden.
Prolonged impeachment proceedings could drive off independent voters sought by Republicans and Democrats, especially in closely fought districts that could determine party control of Congress and even the White House.
Recent polling shows inflation, jobs and the economy are seen as the most important issues among all voters and independents specifically. Twenty percent of independent voters called inflation their No. 1 concern in an Aug. 5-8 poll by the Economist and YouGov.
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In the race for Senate control, Republicans have a favorable map as they seek to wrest power from Democrats, who have a 51-49 majority.
Not a single Republican seat on the ballot is currently seen as at risk, while eight Democrat-held seats are considered competitive. Three of them — in Montana, West Virginia and Ohio — are in Republican-dominated states that Trump won by 8 percentage points or more in 2020.
“Staying focused on the future and not the past is in my view the best way to change the direction of the country and help us to win an election,” said John Thune, the Senate’s No. 2 GOP leader.
Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman from Virginia who once led the party’s House campaign committee, said if members overplay their hand there is a risk of a repeat of 1998. That’s when Republicans led an impeachment of President Bill Clinton but lost five House seats in the next midterm elections. The recriminations and intrigues that followed prompted Speaker Newt Gingrich to resign.
Next year, the party will defend a 10-seat majority in the House, with 18 Republicans representing districts won by Biden in 2020, including five he carried by double digits.
Despite efforts in 2022 by both parties to gin up voter turnout, independents emerged to comprise 31% of the midterm electorate — the highest level in 40 years, said David Winston, a strategist who advises Senate and House Republican leaders. They voted for Democrats by a 49-47 margin, he said, the central reason a predicted “red wave” buoying Republicans never materialized.
These independent-minded voters will be the prize in 2024. Although inflation has diminished in recent months, Biden has yet to convince voters that his policies have improved the economy.
“Their top issue is inflation and just getting by,” said Karlyn Bowman, an expert in public opinion polling at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
--With assistance from Zach C. Cohen, Steven T. Dennis, Billy House and Kathleen Seaman.
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