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House Republicans’ Impeachment Holdout
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House Republicans’ Impeachment Holdout

GOP Rep. Ken Buck isn't thrilled Speaker Kevin McCarthy has started throwing around ‘the I-word.’

Reps. Louie Gohmert, Jim Jordan, Ken Buck, and John Ratcliffe attend a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the impeachment of US President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, December 4, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The decorations in Rep. Ken Buck’s Capitol Hill office say everything about the Colorado Republican’s conservative credentials. Walk in the front door—past a sign reading “BACK THE BLUE”—and you’ll see a “Come and Take It” flag, a symbol of American defiance adopted by all sorts of right-wing activists. To the right of Buck’s desk hangs an AR-15 rifle painted with the stars and stripes of the American flag. On the top shelf of a curio behind his chair sits a red “Make America Great Again” hat.

It’s been surprising, then, to see Buck pop up on MSNBC and CNN in recent weeks to criticize his fellow Republican colleagues for pushing to impeach President Joe Biden over the business dealings of his son Hunter. He’s argued that relying on Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene as any kind of impeachment authority is “absurd.” He’s blasted GOP lawmakers for engaging in “impeachment theater.” And he’s dismissed impeachment as a “shiny object” that distracts Republicans in Congress from more important issues.

Why? In an interview with The Dispatch in his office on Wednesday, Buck methodically made the case that none of the relevant GOP-led House committees have, at least thus far, unearthed clear evidence implicating the president himself in any wrongdoing. “They are looking at, did any money go from Hunter Biden to Joe Biden?” he said. “There’s no evidence. There’s no bank record. There’s no large cash withdrawal.”

His frustration with his colleagues has only intensified since Tuesday, when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced that three House committees would jointly move forward with a formal impeachment inquiry into Biden. In Buck’s mind, the investigations already being conducted by those three committees—Judiciary, Ways and Means, and Oversight—were enough.

“The speaker put [impeachment] on the table unnecessarily,” Buck said. “Substantively, all he did was raise the expectations that we’re going to do an impeachment rather than gather the evidence. And if the evidence takes us to impeachment, go there, and if it doesn’t take us to impeachment, don’t go there. Now that he started using the I-word, he’s now creating the expectation that we’re going to go with impeachment no matter what—and that’s a problem.”

Such skepticism of the Biden corruption narrative is increasingly rare among conservative Republicans, who have been characterizing the findings of the House investigations as proof of both “collusion” and a “quid pro quo.” Committee chairs Jim Jordan and James Comer appear regularly on Fox News to trumpet the latest developments in their investigations, seemingly always promising that additional incriminating evidence is just around the corner. As Comer, the Kentucky Republican who chairs the House Oversight Committee, recently told Sean Hannity during one of these appearances, his committee “took a huge step towards implicating Joe Biden in many of these crimes.”

For Buck, it’s not enough for Republicans to “step towards” implicating the president—they need to actually implicate him. A former prosecutor at the Justice Department and later a Weld County district attorney, he said that “evidence is a central part of prosecution” and repeated his view that Republicans have yet to uncover proof that the president acted in a corrupt manner. On a more practical note, he added, the lack of an established “nexus between Hunter Biden’s actions and Joe Biden’s actions” ensures this impeachment will be dead on arrival in the Senate.

“We need, in the House, to have real evidence,” he said. “We need to convince the American public that there’s real evidence, and we need to convince some Democrats. This needs to be a bipartisan impeachment in the House so that there is a bipartisan conviction in the Senate.” 

Buck, currently serving his fifth term in the House, doesn’t appear to have a political reason to push against the desires of the GOP base. Unlike some swing-district members who are wary a partisan impeachment could cost them their seat, Buck represents an overwhelmingly Republican district in eastern Colorado in which he won his last race by nearly 25 points. He’s an active member of the Freedom Caucus, alongside some of the lawmakers who have been most loudly calling for Biden’s impeachment. His outspokenness in recent weeks has reportedly kickstarted an effort to mount a primary challenge against him next year.

“This is the same guy that wrote a book called Drain the Swamp, who is now arguing against an impeachment inquiry,” Greene, the Georgia Republican, told CNN this week. “I really don’t see how we can have a member on [the Judiciary Committee] that is flat out refusing to impeach. … Can he even be trusted to do his job at this point?”

Looming over Republicans’ impeachment affair is Donald Trump, who has reportedly played an active role in developing the House GOP’s strategy and who may benefit electorally from a drawn-out Biden impeachment. “The Republicans in Congress, though well meaning, keep talking about an Impeachment ‘Inquiry’ on Crooked Joe Biden,” the party’s standard bearer posted on Truth Social late last month. “Biden is a Stone Cold Crook-You don’t need a long INQUIRY to prove it, it’s already proven. These lowlifes Impeached me TWICE (I WON!), and Indicted me FOUR TIMES – For NOTHING! Either IMPEACH the BUM, or fade into OBLIVION.”

In his conversation with The Dispatch, Buck acknowledged such pressure from Trump likely contributed to McCarthy’s decision to give impeachment his blessing. “That was around the same time that former President Donald Trump was tweeting more and more about the issue,” he said. “It was also at the same time that the speaker was approached by some members who are close allies of President Trump.”

Standing in the way of Trump’s preferred outcome could leave Buck in a similar position to former Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who was successfully primaried in 2022 after speaking out frequently against Trump following the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Buck, from neighboring Colorado, was close to Cheney—as a young lawyer he served as counsel to then-Rep. Dick Cheney during the Iran-Contra hearings—and he was one of her few defenders in the Republican conference when she was ousted from leadership in 2021.

Given all the headaches that come with bucking the party, it’d be understandable—at least politically—if Buck tried to walk back his initial position on impeachment. On Tuesday, after McCarthy’s announcement of an inquiry, it appeared that process had begun. “I think it’s a good move,” Politico quoted him as saying. “We have to focus on spending, we have to make sure the government doesn’t shut down. We have to get our job done. And I think taking this off the table and not having a distraction is a good move.”

But speaking with The Dispatch, Buck claimed his remarks had been taken out of context; he was only commenting on McCarthy’s tactical decision to circumvent a vote on the inquiry. In Buck’s view, the speaker had made a strategic mistake earlier this month by even suggesting impeachment was forthcoming. “I think he screwed up by announcing that he wanted to do an impeachment inquiry,” he told The Dispatch. “But he realized he didn’t have the votes. And so I think that the best move that he could have made under the circumstances is just to announce it himself.”

Buck and other Republican members are receiving a briefing on Friday that will dive into the findings of the three House committees, and the Colorado Republican said he’ll keep an open mind about whether Biden acted corruptly. Even if he doesn’t think the president’s behavior meets the threshold of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” he still thinks Biden’s limited involvement in his son’s business dealings was “terrible” and said the president should have told Hunter to stop trying to sell foreign clients what Hunter’s onetime business partner recently described as the “illusion of access.”

But as long as the facts of the Biden saga remain where they are, Buck is skeptical about impeaching the president. And he told The Dispatch he’s not the only conservative Republican who has such doubts. “If Kevin McCarthy had the votes, he would have brought this to the floor,” he said. “I’m not alone in my opinions. I may be alone in expressing them publicly, but I’m not alone in my opinions.”

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.