The Borking of Joe Biden

If there was any doubt that the Republican House was no more sophisticated than a preschool playground, last week’s opening of an impeachment inquiry into President Biden settled it with a nasty kick of sand in Democrats’ face.

How else can you describe the pretext for this fishing expedition other than “You started it”? If our guy got embroiled in impeachment and protracted legal proceedings during election season, well then, damn it, so will yours.

Whereas Democrats began the first Trump impeachment inquiry after it was revealed that he tried to extort a political favor from the president of Ukraine in exchange for military aid, and the second impeachment after an insurrection, the Biden inquiry is proceeding with no clear evidence of any misdeeds by the president.

This is just the latest asymmetric tit-for-tat by Republicans.

Even many Republicans in Congress don’t buy into this kind of baloney, as we’ve learned from a seriesof Washington confessionals and from several Republicans who have questioned whether their side has the goods or if this is the best use of their time. As Kevin McCarthy announced the impeachment inquiry, you could almost see his wispy soul sucked out Dementor-style, joining whatever ghostly remains of Paul Ryan’s abandoned integrity still wander the halls of Congress.

But this isn’t the first time we’ve witnessed this kind of sorry perversion of Democratic precedent. What Democrats do first in good faith, Republicans repeat in bad faith. Time and again, partisan steps that Democrats take with caution are transmogrified into extraordinary retaliation by Republicans.

And so, Al Gore’s challenge of the 2000 election results, ending in his decorous acceptance of the results after a bitter court ruling, is reincarnated as an unhinged insurrection at the Capitol in 2021.

In exchange for the brief moment after the 2004 election when some Democrats claimed irregularities with the Ohio ballot process, we get Republicans taking baseless claims of voter fraud in 2020 to thermonuclear level.

In June 1992, Biden, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called on President George H.W. Bush not to nominate any candidate for the Supreme Court until after the fall election, saying it was “fair” and “essential” to keep what could be a sharp political conflict out of the campaign’s final days — as well as the nomination process itself. Of course, with no vacancy at hand, the stakes in that instance were nonexistent. But just after Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, Mitch McConnell took the extraordinary position that he would not submit any Supreme Court nominee from President Barack Obama for Senate consideration in an election year. By ignoring that nominee, Merrick Garland, Republicans maintained a conservative majority on the court. McConnell, of course, disingenuously cited the “Biden rule” in his decision.

It is a bitter paradox that Biden, long a careful moderate, has suffered the brunt of this vindictive one-upmanship. The trouble with being around for so long, as Biden has been, is that there is always someone who remembers “the time when you” and holds a grudge.

And while there’s no direct connection between the 1987 defeat of Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork for the Supreme Court and the current impeachment inquiry, I can’t help thinking that the rage that set off among conservative Republicans helped ignite the flames of animosity that have only intensified over the years, yet another instance of a Democratic precedent being grossly misinterpreted as a political ploy rather than as a principled stand.

It was Biden, who as chair of the Judiciary Committee and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, was compelled to lead the fight against Bork. There was plenty of reason to block Bork: He had opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the principle of one-person, one-vote; the judicial protection of gay rights; and the idea of a constitutional right to privacy as the foundation of not only Roe v. Wade, but also the right to contraception.

But the fight made even some Democrats nervous. “Will Democrats Self-Destruct on Bork?” the liberal columnist Mark Shields asked.

At that time, for one party to lead the fight to reject a Supreme Court nominee on ideological grounds was extraordinary. The vehemence with which some senators, like Ted Kennedy, approached it exacerbated the rancor. This sort of process became known as “Borking,” which, for Republicans, meant using someone’s record to destroy their character. To their minds, even though six Republicans voted against Bork, Democrats had politicized and poisoned the nomination process.

It’s hard not to see the unhinged attempt to take down Biden now as some kind of warped reincarnation of “Borking,” yet another twisted abuse of Democratic precedent.

The misdeeds Trump committed in office clearly warranted an unprecedented double impeachment. They certainly did not warrant this inquiry into Biden.

We are left to hope that the effort will now blow up in the G.O.P.’s face. Considering the shameless stuntathon of today’s House Republicans, this may be the closest we get to what’s fair.

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