Arizona Republicans in the spotlight as impeachment bomb-throwers




Andy Biggs impeachment
House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Gilbert) attempts to call a point of order during a Judiciary Committee hearing on impeachment on Dec. 9, 2019. Photo by Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Arizona Republicans have emerged as some of President Donald Trump’s most ardent defenders as congressional Democrats move ahead with their impeachment to oust Trump from the White House. 

Leading that effort is GOP Rep. Andy Biggs, a two-term Republican from the East Valley suburbs of Phoenix who now heads the House Freedom Caucus, a group of hardline conservatives. 

But he’s not alone. Arizona Republican Reps. Debbie Lesko and Paul Gosar have also been some of the most outspoken critics of Democrats’ investigations. 

Once a reliably conservative state, Arizona’s population is becoming more liberal and the state is now viewed as a battleground in 2020 — but the state’s GOP House members remain firmly on the party’s right flank, as evidenced by the ongoing impeachment proceedings. 

On Monday, Biggs raised a point of order at the opening of an impeachment hearing featuring testimony from legal counsel from both parties — using the political equivalent of guerilla tactics to stall the hearing and call attention to his staunch anti-impeachment message.

A junior member of the House Judiciary Committee, Biggs interrupted the Democratic-led hearing to demand that the GOP be allowed to hold a hearing of its own. 

The move sparked a partisan spat between Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler of New York and other conservative firebrands — and put Biggs in the national spotlight once again as a leading voice in defense of the president. 

Biggs’s move was the latest in an ongoing effort to defend Trump of any wrongdoing. It includes appearances on conservative news programs, commentaries on social media and in newspaper op-ed pages, press releases and political stunts to generate TV-worthy news clips, such as Monday’s effort to derail the Democrat-led hearing.

GOP ‘star in the making’

Biggs’ efforts are winning plaudits from his party’s more senior bomb throwers.

“He’s one of my best members at taking and dissecting information and putting in terms that people can understand,” Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a brief interview on Capitol Hill. “He’s a star in the making.” 

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the former head of the House Freedom Caucus, agreed. 

“There’s a reason we made him the new Freedom Caucus chair,” he told the Mirror.

In October, Biggs authored a failed resolution to censure California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Reps. Lesko, Gosar and David Schweikert — the other GOP members of the delegation — backed the measure.

Debbie Lesko impeachment hearing
Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Peoria) questions Intelligence Committee Minority Counsel Stephen Castor and Intelligence Committee Majority Counsel Daniel Goldman during House impeachment inquiry hearings before the House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 9, 2019. Photo by Doug Mills | Pool/Getty Images

Biggs, Lesko and Gosar were among dozens of Republicans who stormed the House impeachment hearings to protest closed-door depositions of witnesses — though Gosar, who had access to them as a member of the House Oversight & Reform Committee, skipped them.

Last week, Biggs used procedural tactics to slow down another impeachment hearing in the Judiciary Committee, during which law professors testified about the merits and history of impeachment. 

And Lesko, who also sits on the committee, crowed on Twitter about her opposition to impeachment during the hearing. Looks like I got under Chairman Nadler’s skin today,” she tweeted after the hearing, pointing to a video clip on a Fox News program.

‘Arizona’s changing’

Some are confounded by Arizona Republicans’ hard-right stance at a time when the state is moving to the political left — and say it poses a risk to more moderate Republicans in the state.

“I think they think it works (politically),” Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva told the Mirror. “But I think it might be overplaying their cards, in the sense that Arizona’s changing.” 

Grijalva said of his GOP colleagues, “They’re going to be on the outside looking in, because the horse they decided to ride is not a moderate one. It’s not one that reaches consensus, it’s not a compromiser role. It’s a very, very hard-right ideological position that almost all of them have taken.”

Once deep red, the Grand Canyon State is now regarded as competitive, thanks in part to an influx of younger, more progressive voters and a burgeoning Latino electorate.

Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema won statewide office last year. And the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter, rates the state a toss-up in the 2020 presidential election. 

Democrats hold a majority of Arizona’s House seats and believe they have a shot at ousting Schweikert, a GOP firebrand who is under an ethics investigation. 

Democratic Rep. Greg Stanton, also a member of the House Judiciary Committee, declined to comment about the political implications of his colleagues’ hard-right stance on impeachment and other issues.

Biggs, for his part, doesn’t appear to be concerned.

He is embracing his new leadership role on the once-powerful House Freedom Caucus, which lost relevance when Democrats won control, and says anti-impeachment messaging will help the party, not hurt it, in the 2020 elections.

In an interview on a Fox News program earlier this month, he said polls show that independents are “softening” on impeachment — which he said threatens Democrats in swing districts. “That makes it very difficult for those people who want to get reelected.” 

Washington bureau chief Robin Bravender contributed to this report.