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Barabak: What voters in McCarthy’s district think about impeachment effort

Barabak: What voters in McCarthy’s district think about impeachment effort

VISALIA —  Julian Perea doesn’t hate Joe Biden. If anything, he feels bad for him, given his age and what Perea regards as the president’s severe mental and physical impairment.

“The guy is out of it,” Perea said.

Even so, the retired Fresno police officer is glad the House of Representatives — led by his congressman, Speaker Kevin McCarthy — has taken the first step toward impeaching the president.

“We as conservatives need to fight back,” said Perea, who served more than three decades in the Army and sprinkled his views with several references to war and warfare. “You have to keep the enemy off balance at all times.”

When McCarthy announced last week the start of a formal inquiry into Biden’s impeachment, the Bakersfield Republican was seeking to bolster his wobbly speakership and avoid a government shutdown by mollifying the restive torch-and-pitchfork wing of the House GOP.

It hasn’t worked, as McCarthy continues to teeter and Republicans lurch toward a lights-out deadline at the end of September.

But the move plainly suits many of the voters McCarthy represents in California’s oil-and-agricultural heartland — a broad swath of the state’s midsection and the ruddiest of red turf — which backed President Trump’s reelection by a landslide. McCarthy was sent to Washington with 67% support.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Claudia Warkentin of Biden’s impeachment.

The 43-year-old political independent lives in Clovis, a Fresno suburb, and works in the waste-management industry. She voted for Trump in 2020 and may back him again in 2024.

Biden has “made a mockery of our country,” Warkentin said, pointing to the frailties she sees in the 80-year-old president. Impeachment “should have happened a long time ago.”

That rough consensus isn’t terribly surprising. After all, McCarthy represents a region speckled with road signs condemning “woke politics,” Gov. Gavin Newsom (“Stop wasting our dam water!”) and McCarthy’s predecessor as speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

What’s striking is how little Biden’s alleged, unproven corruption has to do with pro-impeachment sentiments.

His son Hunter, the subject of a special counsel investigation, may have shamelessly grubbed for money by trading on the family name. Many consider him ripe for criminal prosecution.

But the case that critics make against the president goes well beyond that — and has little to do with the inquiry underway in Congress.

It’s driven in good part by anger and fear: about inflation, soaring gas prices, green energy, crime, homelessness, policy toward Israel, all of it undergirding a sense the country is headed irretrievably in the wrong direction.

“The battle is larger than just Biden,” said Perea, the retired police officer. Impeaching the president is “fighting for our way of life.”

Perea, 72, was at a grocery store in Visalia, in the northern end of McCarthy’s district, which sprawls south to the edge of the greater Los Angeles area. He was buying lemonade for his granddaughters and their elementary school classmates.

“What used to be abnormal is normal. What used to be normal is abnormal,” Perea said. “It’s abnormal to be a Christian. It’s normal to be a transgender woman who wants to be the first one to have an abortion.”

For many, Biden himself seems almost beside the point.

Of course, not everyone sees merit in the House investigation, or McCarthy’s surrender to far-right extremists.

As Helmuth walked to her car, Jeremy Rhoten came from the other direction, passing in front of the Kings County courthouse, a neoclassical landmark that now houses a variety of small businesses. He was going for a haircut.

“You can say inflation is bad, the price of gas is too high, we’re not happy with things,” said Rhoten, 48, a web designer. “But nothing is happening where obvious lawbreaking is going on.”

“I don’t love Biden,” said Rhoten, an unaffiliated voter who supported the Democrat in 2020 and will do so again in 2024 if the choice comes down to the president or Trump.

Still, Rhoten said, “I wish we’d stop wasting our time on government procedures that just are not going to get anything done. It’s a waste of time. It’s a red herring to distract from whatever crap is really going on.”

So Biden now faces the prospect of becoming only the fourth president in the nation’s history to be impeached. That would make him the second in a row.

The targeting of the nation’s 46th president is obviously tied to the sanctioning of the 45th. That fact is clear here in the Central Valley, where for many — including the local congressman — bridging the country’s vast partisan gulf is less important than settling old scores.

Mark Z. Barabak is a Los Angeles Times columnist.

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