Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy recently gave the GOP base a heavy dose of red meat when he opened an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. However, given the GOP’s razor-thin majority in the House, impeachment will not be politically palatable to every member of McCarthy’s conference, especially those in swing districts.
As I have previously written in these pages, at the center of the battleground map is Southern California. Five of the region’s congressional seats are included on the Cook Political Report’s list of competitive races for 2024.
Both parties have made clear they are ready to invest heavily in the state to win swing races which could tip control of the House of Representatives either way. Speaker McCarthy, no stranger to California politics, put it plainly, saying, “Is my future as Speaker dependent on holding the five seats we picked up in California? Yeah. We have our entire majority because we won in California.”
Meanwhile, House Majority PAC, which is tied to Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, has committed to spending $35 million in California. In Southern California, they have specifically labeled the 27th, 40th, and 45th districts in Los Angeles and Orange Counties as targets to flip blue. Each of these districts voted for President Biden in 2020 while sending a Republican to the House in 2022.
Yet, in the fight for these important Southern California districts, House Republicans are proving to be their own worst enemy. Indeed, to the chagrin of battleground Republicans and the delight of Jeffries, far-right members in the House Freedom Caucus used the threat of a motion to vacate the speakership to force McCarthy to open an impeachment inquiry into President Biden.
Put plainly, McCarthy had to make the move to preserve his reign as Speaker, but it could jeopardize his party’s electoral hopes in the 2024 election cycle, as well as cost him the job anyway.
An August Wall Street Journal poll found that 52% of registered voters nationwide oppose impeaching Biden, while just 41% are in favor. Furthermore, in polling conducted across the 18 House districts won by Biden in 2020 that are currently represented by Republicans (including CA-27, CA-40, and CA-45), 56% think the inquiry is more of a partisan stunt than a serious investigation.
In addition to defending these three districts, McCarthy and the GOP will target the 47th and 49th districts as potential pickups.
Representative Katie Porter(D) is leaving her seat in the 47th district in Orange County to run for the Senate in 2024. This has opened the door for national Republicans, who back former California State Assembly member Scott Baugh.
Baugh previously lost by just four points to Porter in 2022, even though Porter outspent him by more than $20 million. He will certainly receive more financial support this time around, especially since he will not be facing an incumbent.
Rep. Mike Levin (D) won the 49th district–containing parts of both Orange and San Diego Counties–by five points in 2022. Most election handicappers have put the 49th on their 2024 maps, but wresting control of a district Biden won by double digits could prove a difficult task.
Although McCarthy would like to pick up these seats, his priority is defending the competitive seats Republicans hold. It will be challenging in Southern California, as three of the GOP-held districts were won by Biden in 2020 and he will be back at the top of the ticket in 2024.
An impeachment inquiry into Biden raises tough questions for Republicans in Biden-won districts. If the inquiry gains momentum and leads to a House vote on impeachment, Republican Reps. Mike Garcia (CA-27), Young Kim (CA-40), and Michelle Steel (CA-45) will face potentially the most difficult decision of their political careers.
Voting no risks alienating the MAGA Republican base. Conversely, voting for impeachment risks alienating independent and moderate voters who voted for President Biden in 2020 and swung to Republican candidates in 2022. In essence, these frontline Republicans face a no-win scenario that could jeopardize their futures in elected office.
Further, if Republicans are unable to deliver any credible evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors, the impeachment inquiry will appear as purely politically motivated to swing voters. This could lead to a similar outcome as in 1998, when Democrats gained seats in the wake of a Republican impeachment inquiry against President Bill Clinton. It marked the first time since 1934 that the president’s party gained seats in a midterm election.
Ironically, while Speaker McCarthy’s decision to open an impeachment inquiry likely saved his job in the near term, it may very well cost him the speakership come 2024. Even a small swing in voter preference toward Democrats could cost battleground Republicans their races and cede control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats.
Douglas Schoen is a longtime Democratic political consultant.
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