Republican House leaders on Wednesday shared little insight about how their just-launched impeachment inquiry into President Biden will differ from their current investigative work, despite claims that the inquiry gives them new tools in their ongoing investigations into the president’s son Hunter.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) unilaterally announced the inquiry Tuesday, saying it would focus on whether the president benefited from his son’s business dealings, among other issues. House Republicans, however, have not put forth any direct evidence that he profited from his son’s work in Ukraine and elsewhere.
McCarthy’s announcement appeared designed to placate hard-right lawmakers who have demanded that he intensify the House’s investigative efforts amid negotiations over government spending that threaten to shut down the government — and oust the speaker from his seat.
The inquiry puts House Republicans and the White House on a remarkable collision course at a time when Biden is seeking reelection amid flagging poll numbers. Biden also faces a potential rerun of his 2020 campaign bid against former president Donald Trump, who was himself impeached twice during his single term in office and is far ahead of his rivals in the Republican primary.
The White House has slammed the inquiry as an “evidence-free goose chase” that will only help the president rally support around him. Biden addressed the impeachment inquiry while speaking at a campaign reception Wednesday evening in Northern Virginia.
“I don’t know quite why, but they just knew they wanted to impeach me,” the president said, according to pool reports of the event. “Now, best I can tell they want to impeach me because they want to shut down the government.”
“I get up every day not focused on impeachment; I’ve got a job to do,” Biden added, “I’ve got to deal with issues that affect the American people every single solitary day.”
House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.), Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason T. Smith (R-Mo.) have been tasked by McCarthy to lead the inquiry. Comer’s committee will continue to look into the Biden family’s finances while Jordan’s investigators pursue a probe of the Justice Department’s investigation of Hunter Biden.
Comer and Jordan shed some light Wednesday on which people and documents they intend to subpoena in the coming days and weeks. They both argued that by formally initiating an inquiry, they now have more investigative tools at their disposal — a claim that some of their colleagues who have urged them to stay the course have disputed.
Jordan told reporters that he plans to subpoena lawyers in the tax division of the Justice Department who have worked on the investigation into Hunter Biden being run by newly appointed special counsel David Weiss. Several officials involved with the probe have appeared for closed-door interviews with lawmakers and investigators, including the FBI agent overseeing the investigation who last week disputed claims that Weiss was stymied by the Justice Department. That claim was cited Tuesday when McCarthy announced the inquiry.
“We’re going to want certain documents … and we’re going to want certain people to come in and be deposed or set up a transcribed interview,” Jordan said. “And if they’re reluctant to do that, we may wind up in court, and [having formalized an impeachment inquiry] helps us.”
Comer has previously said he intends to subpoena members of the Biden family, but he did not specify to reporters on Wednesday whether he planned to call Hunter Biden in to testify. Jordan deferred to Comer when asked whether his committee wanted to hear from Hunter Biden himself.
The House GOP conference is set to meet Thursday to further discuss the inquiry, at which time McCarthy will face lawmakers such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who is eager to subpoena Hunter and Joe Biden.
Several Republicans on Wednesday remained uncomfortable with the prospect of moving forward with the inquiry and warned that if House Republicans ultimately move to adopt impeachment articles against Biden, McCarthy will not have the votes unless stronger, more compelling evidence is presented. They also argued that there was no material difference between the current investigations being conducted by House Republicans and the now-formalized impeachment inquiry.
“You have three committees who are investigating Hunter Biden’s activities and their job is not affected in the least whether we call this oversight or impeachment inquiry,” said Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus who has been critical of McCarthy for launching the inquiry. “So raising the issue of impeachment was wrong. It set expectations that are inappropriate.”
Buck added that he was chiefly concerned about the institutional repercussions of impeaching leaders of the opposing party for political retribution. Others speculated that the inquiry also could have unfavorable political ramifications for Republicans — who are looking to retain their House majority in 2024 — even among those who have said they support McCarthy’s decision.
“I haven’t seen anybody do too well after an impeachment process,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). “It didn’t too well for us in ’98 after [President Bill] Clinton. It certainly didn’t do well for the Democratic majority — they’re in the minority now and they pursued multiple impeachments that didn’t expand the base. I don’t see it as good politics.”
No U.S. president has ever been successfully removed from office, but impeachment proceedings, which are primarily a political process, have become increasingly common. However, legal experts and historians told The Washington Post that this inquiry stands out as a unique departure from past impeachment proceedings.
“This is putting the cart before the horse,” said Jeffrey Engel, the director of Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History and co-author of “Impeachment: An American History.” “This is certainly not the way it’s been done the majority of times it’s been done in the past. If evidence does come up, then impeachment proceedings will go forward. But do I think this will produce more evidence? There are thousands of people already investigating the president.”
Still, even some lawmakers in competitive districts, who are generally more cautious about upsetting their more moderate constituents, said they supported McCarthy’s move to launch the impeachment inquiry.
Rep. Mike Garcia (R), who represents a California district Biden won in 2020, dismissed the idea that an inquiry is a political loser in swing districts — so long as lawmakers continue to legislate and keep the government open.
“What I am hearing from my constituents is that they want clarity, that they have seen enough information that they want to know the truth,” Garcia said. “If after everything is settled, and we don’t see that nexus, then there’s no impeachment. If there is [evidence of wrongdoing], then we have an obligation to.”
Lawyers and staff with experience working on impeachment inquiries said that initiating an inquiry could put House Republicans in a stronger position to litigate challenges to their potential document requests and subpoenas while adding more legal weight to a case. But, they said, committees do not acquire any new authorities to obtain that information.
“As a matter of House rules, an impeachment inquiry conveys no new powers to the committee whatsoever — none,” said a House lawyer with extensive experience handling impeachment inquiries who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly. “No new tools. Nothing.”
The lawyer noted that “50 years ago, if you were investigating a break in to the Watergate Hotel, committees did not even have standing subpoena power, and the House might have to authorize an investigation into a specific thing.” But now, House committees have the power to subpoena people and documents, with lawmakers having expanded those capabilities over the years.
Further, a January 2020 opinion issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, under Trump, stated that for a committee to use “compulsory process” granted in an impeachment investigation, the House “must expressly authorize” the committee to do so through a vote before compelling the production of the documents or testimony.
A 2019 Congressional Research Service report states that at the end of the day, “a congressional committee engaged in a legislative investigation could arguably obtain much of the same information as it would during an impeachment inquiry, as both legislative and impeachment investigations constitute an exercise of significant constitutional authority.”
Comer, for example, has obtained thousands of pages of financial records related to the Biden family’s income, business dealings and related companies. Comer’s staff also has released memos summarizing the findings of those records that have shown that Hunter Biden pursued business deals that overlapped with his father’s policy portfolio while he was vice president, but they have not shown a direct link to Joe Biden.