This is the quickest that any president has faced a potential impeachment.
The House has impeached two of the last four presidents, one Democrat and one Republican, both on almost completely party-line votes. Also on almost completely party-line votes, both were acquitted by the Senate and allowed to remain in office.
But those other impeachments all took time. Bill Clinton was impeached during his sixth year and Donald Trump in both his third and fourth. Back in 1868, President Andrew Johnson was impeached during his fourth year, and President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 shortly before his almost-certain impeachment during his sixth year.
Now, a Republican member of Congress seeks to impeach a Democratic president on his first full day, for actions taken several years earlier as vice president.
What’s the charge?
Biden’s son Hunter accepted a position on the board of Ukrainan energy company Burisma while his father was vice president. Though the arrangement was legal, Hunter subsequently admitted it showed “poor judgment,” by potentially setting up a conflict of interest regarding U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine. As vice president, Joe Biden threatened to withhold U.S. aid to Ukraine unless the country fired its corrupt top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin. Everybody agrees on these parts.
The resolution alleges Shokin was investigating Burisma at the time and that Biden’s threat was intended to benefit the company that his son worked for.
There is little basis in fact for this allegation. Fact-checking source PolitiFact noted that the broader U.S. government — not just Biden specifically — had called for Shokin to be fired for corruption, as did the leaders of other European nations and international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Further, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine determined that Shokin had actually *stopped *investigating Burisma by the time Biden called for his ouster.
The resolution also would make other unsubstantiated charges and includes salacious allegations about Biden’s son.
What the resolution does
These proposed articles of impeachment attempt to impeach Joe Biden, setting up a potential (though unlikely) Senate trial to remove him from office.
This stands out not only for its timing, but also for attempting to remove Biden from the presidency for his actions prior to assuming the office. Every other presidential impeachment in American history was for actions undertaken while they were actually president.
Clinton was impeached for two counts of perjury to a grand jury and obstruction of justice. Trump was impeached first for a supposed quid pro quo deal with Ukraine and again for supposedly inciting a riot. Johnson was impeached for firing a Cabinet secretary without congressional approval, in defiance of a since-repealed law in force at the time. Nixon was about to be impeached for his role in the Watergate scandal during his presidency.
What supporters say
Supporters argue that even though the actions at issue were taken before Biden’s presidency, they still render him unbecoming of the position commander-in-chief, so there’s no time to waste.
“Joe Biden is unfit to hold the office of the presidency. His pattern of abuse of power as President Obama’s vice president is lengthy and disturbing,” Rep. Greene said in a press release which refers to Biden’s threat to withhold foreign aid to Ukraine.
Biden’s negotiations with the Ukrainian government on this issue represented the well-known foreign policy of the U.S. government at the time, as well as that of many other national governments as well — not solely his own personal financial self-interest.
What opponents say
Opponents counter that Joe Biden is innocent of these allegations.
“Look, my son did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. I carried out the policy of the United States government in rooting out corruption in Ukraine. And that’s what we should be focusing on,” Joe Biden said during a Democratic presidential primary debate in 2019.
Odds of passage
It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee. Odds of passage are nil in the Democratic-controlled House, especially so early in Biden’s presidency. Even if it were to somehow pass, the Senate must vote by a two-thirds margin to convict. That bar is so high that no president has ever been convicted and removed from office.