Republicans happily watch Democratic turmoil over Biden

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Republicans happily watch Democratic turmoil over Biden

House Republicans watching Democrats grapple with President Biden’s political future are glad to be on the sidelines of an internal brawl that has the potential to weaken Biden and his party. 

GOP lawmakers say they’re not watching the fighting with any glee, but they are glad the media frenzy surrounds their political opponents. And they clearly think the infighting has a chance to help them. 

Printouts at a House GOP press conference on Tuesday highlighted headlines about Democrats and editorial boards calling on Biden to step down as the nominee. And Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said that Democrats “have not been in the dark about” Biden’s mental acuity and “need to be held accountable” for misleading the public.

All that the GOP needs to do, many lawmakers think, is not get in the way of their opponents.

“It is not my preference to make headlines right now,” said Johnson, who more often than not has been at the center of the storm in his nine-month-old Speakership. “They’ve got a lot to deal with over there.”

Some Republicans, though, have not been able to resist pushing the issue further.

House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) over the weekend requested that Biden’s White House doctor appear before his panel.

The day after Biden’s disastrous debate performance, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) introduced a resolution asking Vice President Harris to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Biden from office.

Johnson himself has said that Biden’s Cabinet and Harris should seriously consider using the 25th Amendment process to remove the president, though he noted that the House could not compel that. Roy has acknowledged that his resolution would not have the force of law.

And Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) aimed to appeal to Democratic concerns about Biden in a letter asking them to support her move to fine Attorney General Merrick Garland $10,000 for each day he refuses to turn over audio from Biden’s special counsel interview in October — an already provided transcript of which shows Biden’s difficulty with recalling details that led Hur to describe him as “elderly man with a poor memory.”

Other Republicans are warning their colleagues against distracting from the Democratic turmoil. 

Luna said that upstaging the Democrats as they faced a high-stakes crisis was one of the concerns she heard from GOP colleagues as she pushed to have the House sergeant-at-arms to arrest Garland. She ultimately declined to force a vote on the matter the day after Biden’s debate.

“It’s always better to let the folks in the hole continue to dig,” Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) said when asked about Comer’s request. “I think that we ought to tread very responsibly.”

Comer, for his part, is brushing off any concerns about his tactics.

“There’s always Republicans critical of everything,” Comer said. “I’m not gonna stop doing what I’m supposed to do.”

Republicans also see the discussion of replacing Biden as an opportunity to accuse Democrats of hypocrisy.

“The party that loves lecturing people about democracy is in a smoke-filled room trying to throw out the democratically chosen nominee for president by the Democratic voters,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said.

And the situation sets Republicans up for one of their favorite messaging tropes: Democrats in disarray.

“There is no longer any doubt that Joe Biden is unfit to be our commander in chief. The Biden White House, far-left House Democrats and the mainstream media are in complete disarray because they know this to be true,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), chair of the House GOP, said in a press conference Tuesday.

Beyond the political arguments, Republicans — who have dealt with all manner of internal division over the last year, from the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to battles over government funding — could not help themselves from reveling in the dramatically shifted environment in the Capitol.

House Republicans had some extra pep as they walked down the Capitol steps after a vote series on Monday evening as reporters swarmed their Democratic colleagues. 

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) sported a smile as he met some colleagues at the bottom of the stairs, marveling: “Nobody wants to talk to me.” Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) jokingly offered to “run interference” for a Democratic colleague, he said.

“It’s fun to watch you reporters go after the Dems for a minute. This is nice to see. They’re all squirmish around y’all,” Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah) said.

Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.) compared the environment right now for Democrats on the Hill to what Republicans dealt with over the first Speaker’s election over several days and the three-week scramble following McCarthy’s ouster.

Nearby, members such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) faced swarms of reporters and questions about whether they think Biden should remain the Democratic nominee amid concerns about his age and ability to effectively make the case against Trump. (Ocasio-Cortez threw her support behind Biden; Schiff said over the weekend that both Biden and Trump should submit to cognitive tests.)

Johnson, too, joked that Tuesday saw “the smallest crowd ever assembled for a Republican press conference” as most of the press corps staked out a Democratic caucus meeting several blocks away.

But Republicans also hope to keep the pressure up on the other party, even as they enjoy the reprieve.

“I haven’t heard a single one of my Democratic colleagues say Joe Biden’s mental competency is bad for the United States,” Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-Wis.) said. “It’s bad for us on the world stage. It makes it a more dangerous place. They’ve never mentioned that. The only thing they’ve mentioned is it’s going to be hard to get him elected again.”

Johnson, too, claimed the situation did not spark glee.

“You would say from a political standpoint, that we would be enjoying this, but we’re not. I’m not enjoying this,” Johnson said. “I think this is a dangerous time, a dangerous time for our country.”