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The Republican attempt to censure Adam Schiff was a flop

It adds to other GOP failures at political payback this term.

Representative Adam Schiff on the US Capitol steps, surrounded by other lawmakers in the sunshine. He wears a blue suit, white shirt, and light blue tie.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) walks down the House steps after the last votes of the week in the Capitol on Thursday, April 20, 2023.
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Republican attempts at getting revenge on the Biden administration — and other Democrats — don’t seem to be faring so well these days.

This week, House Republicans had their latest flop in the form of a resolution to censure Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) over his role in pushing an investigation into former President Donald Trump and his 2016 campaign’s potential ties to Russia. In a 225-196 vote, the House voted to table this resolution on Wednesday evening, effectively killing it.

After taking the House majority in the 2022 midterms, Republicans promised expansive investigations into the Biden administration, impeachments, and major changes to how the House is run. While the party successfully removed Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from the Foreign Affairs Committee in February, and blocked Schiff and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) from serving on the Intelligence Committee, their other efforts have failed to gain traction. That includes investigations into the business ties of President Joe Biden’s son Hunter, and a stalled push to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

In a split Congress, there’s little the GOP-controlled House can do to accomplish Republican legislative goals. But its investigative powers do allow it to scrutinize Biden — and potentially to uncover evidence that makes Democrats look bad ahead of the 2024 elections. If Republicans continue to struggle with making headway in their efforts to highlight supposed Democratic misconduct, lawmakers may go into the 2024 campaign with little to rally their base — and with a more divided caucus, as these political stunts risk turning off moderate lawmakers.

They could also provide a benefit to Democrats. Schiff, who is running to represent California in the Senate, was quick to herald the outcome, and to attempt to turn it to his advantage: “Today’s partisan and failed attempt to censure me is a badge of honor that I will wear proudly,” Schiff wrote in a tweet. “These efforts to intimidate me will not succeed. I will always defend our democracy.”

Republican failures mean less campaign fodder

The resolution, sponsored by Trump-aligned conservative Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL), would have publicly rebuked Schiff, urged an Ethics Committee investigation, and resulted in a $16 million fine if the panel believed he had misrepresented and abused sensitive information. In the end, 20 Republicans voted with Democrats to squash the resolution, with some noting their legal concerns about such a hefty fine. (Luna has said she will reintroduce the resolution without that provision.)

A big reason for Republicans to engage in efforts like the House investigations and the Schiff censure resolution is to rally voters for the election and generate fodder they can use against the president and prominent Democrats. As political scientists Douglas Kriner and Eric Schickler found in a study of 53 years of presidential investigations, the more time that’s dedicated to hearings on executive branch misconduct, the lower the president’s approval rating winds up trending. Biden’s approval rating is already pretty low at 41 percent, but Republicans have an incentive to try to lower it even more ahead of what’s expected to be an intense election season next year.

Additionally, by trying to shift the heat onto Biden, Republicans are attempting to distract from the myriad legal problems Trump is facing, including a second indictment related to taking classified national security documents. The investigations, some hope, will bog Biden down with legal problems of his own, and even the playing field should the presidential race come down to a 2020 rematch.

The problem, however, is that these efforts haven’t been able to turn up concrete findings that are harmful to the Biden administration, nor have they resonated with the US public.

In the case of the Schiff resolution, some Republican members themselves chafed at the potential penalties included in the measure, which aimed to call the Democrat out for promoting misleading theories about the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia. As part of the House Intelligence Committee investigation into the subject, Schiff alleged strong evidence about potential collusion, though Republicans argue that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report later disputed this conclusion.

Other Republican bids to attack past political opponents have similarly stalled. In May, House Oversight Committee chair James Comer admitted that lawmakers haven’t been able to find evidence tying Biden to corruption following an investigation into the business dealings made by members of the Biden family.

House Republicans have also more recently sought to investigate allegations that an executive from Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, offered $5 million bribes to Joe Biden and Hunter Biden respectively, an issue that House Oversight Democrats told the Washington Post was already closed by the FBI in 2020 after there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant further investigation. Comer is leading that investigation as well, but is among the Republicans who have also urged caution around statements about potential tapes of a Burisma executive offering the Bidens money, a claim advanced by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

Beyond failing to turn up new information so far, Republicans’ attempts at political revenge also haven’t resonated much with the American public. As Vox’s Christian Paz reported in March, half of American adults believed Republicans were overreaching with their investigations into the Biden administration. In Schiff’s case, he’s since used the censure resolution as part of a fundraising push for his 2024 California Senate campaign.

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