Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), who once called for impeaching former President Barack Obama over his decision to make recess appointments, is now claiming that it’s Democrats who’ve actually “lowered the bar” for impeachment.
On Saturday, Ernst said that former Vice President and 2020 contender Joe Biden “should be very careful” with his words around President Donald Trump’s impeachment. “We can have a situation where if it should ever be President Biden, that immediately, people, the day after he would be elected would be saying, ‘Well, we’re going to impeach him,’” she said.
According to Ernst, Republicans could impeach Biden for “turning a blind eye” to his son’s work for Burisma, despite being assigned to take on Ukrainian corruption by the Obama White House.
Ernst attempted to walk back those comments, telling reporters Monday, “that was taken entirely out of context.”
“The point is that the Democrats have lowered the bar so far that … regardless of who it is, if you have a different party in the House than that of an elected president, you can have just random comments thrown out there with folks saying we’re going to impeach,” she continued.
But that accusation, that it’s Democrats who have turned impeachment into a partisan weapon, belies her previous call for Obama’s impeachment when she was a member of Congress in 2014.
For his own part, Biden said Sunday that Ernst’s threat is just more proof that Republicans are afraid to face off against him in the general election. “They very much don’t want to face me, obviously,” he told the Des Moines Register.
But there’s another lesson in this exchange that Biden could be learning.
Biden is nostalgic for the bipartisan political days of yore but Ernst’s comments show why they’re never coming back
Biden frequently reminisces about the way politics used to be done, when elected officials from both parties could come together and hammer out a compromise for the betterment of the country. For months, he has positioned himself as the candidate who can roll back the American political system to one of mutual cooperation.
“I just think there is a way, and the thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House. Not a joke. You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends,” Biden said last May.
Obama also thought that Republicans would come to their senses and work with him on policy after his election. ”My hope, my expectation, is that after the election, now that it turns out that the goal of beating Obama doesn’t make much sense because I’m not running again, that we can start getting some cooperation again,” he said in 2012.
Instead, he faced unprecedented obstruction. Not only was Obama’s 2016 Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland infamously held up by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), but Republicans utilized several political tricks to hold up the president’s agenda, as explained by Vox’s Matthew Yglesias:
Republicans began to use filibuster tactics in unprecedented ways, holding up uncontroversial nominations to eat up precious floor time and refusing to confirm anyone at all to certain posts in an effort to stop agencies from functioning. They weaponized the federal debt ceiling and forced economically damaging austerity budgets on the country only to turn around and embrace budget deficits once Trump was in the White House.
Most of all, they orchestrated a series of Benghazi investigations whose purpose they admitted was to hurt Hillary Clinton’s prospects as a presidential candidate while blocking public disclosure of the ongoing counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
The reason why is very simple: There remains little political incentive for cross-party cooperation, as Lee Drutman explained for Vox:
In short, if Joe Biden assumes office in 2021, what incentive will congressional Republicans have to work with him? Helping a President Biden achieve his policy goals would help Democrats become more popular. Republicans’ future electoral success would depend on Democrats becoming less popular. It’s the same as when Obama began his second term in 2013. This is why the “fever” didn’t break.
It’s also why congressional Democrats immediately went into resistance mode following the 2016 election. Why would Democrats ever work with Republicans to help Donald Trump achieve anything? It’s the same logic, but with a very different emotional feel.
Ernst’s original comments, as well as her walk back, show that this is just how politics are. Everything is hyperpartisan and that romantic political age that Biden pines for is probably a thing of the past. But as Vox’s Ezra Klein explained, the vice president’s “idea of who he is was formed in the more collegial Congress of the late 20th century”:
In seeing the humanity of his colleagues so clearly, he has lost sight of the structure that surrounds them; 45 years of personal kindnesses, and a career built in the age of mixed parties, can do a lot to obscure the overarching power of polarization.