WASHINGTON — The White House’s oversight and investigations war room finally got the battle on Tuesday that they’d been arming themselves for.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s announcement that he has directed GOP-led House committees to open an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden was the long-anticipated retribution that White House aides had been waiting for, after House Democrats twice impeached Donald Trump during his term in office.
Ever since Republicans retook the House majority last year, the White House has been building a team of legal experts and spokespeople to counter the congressional inquiry launched into the president and his son, Hunter Biden.
And in recent months, as the calls for impeachment grew louder on the far right of the GOP, the new White House war room has responded by publicly refuting Republican accusations and amplifying the voices of impeachment skeptics within the GOP caucus.
“House Republicans have been investigating the president for nine months, and they’ve turned up no evidence of wrongdoing,” Ian Sams, the White House spokesperson for oversight and investigations, said on Tuesday, noting that McCarthy’s “own GOP members have said so.”
To date, House Republicans have yet to produce any evidence that Biden personally profited off of his son’s business dealings, or that the president committed any other high crimes or misdemeanors. But proponents of impeachment insist that a formal inquiry will give investigators precisely the legal power they need to subpoena records from Biden that might prove wrongdoing.
Still, McCarthy’s decision to skip holding a formal vote on opening an inquiry — and just declaring one — appeared at first glance Tuesday to indicate that committees would not be granted any greater investigatory power under House rules than they currently have.
Absent a smoking gun, Republicans have latched on to testimony from Devon Archer, a former business partner of Hunter Biden’s, who told the House Oversight and Accountability Committee that over a 10-year period, Hunter put his father on speakerphone while talking to business associates “about 20 times,” and that Joe Biden attended two meals with Hunter and his business associates.
Archer also told the committee the elder Biden did not discuss business matters on any of the calls and meetings. Nonetheless, the younger Biden sought to portray an “illusion” of access to the then-vice president as part of his business “brand,” he said.
The lack of hard evidence hasn’t deterred the court of public opinion, however. A CNN poll released last week found a majority of Americans, 61%, believe the president was involved in his son’s business dealings while he was vice president, with 42% believing the involvement was illegal.
McCarthy has been under intense pressure from some far-right GOP members to press for impeachment even as others warn it’s too early. With a slim 222-212 majority in the House, the whims of every member of McCarthy’s caucus count.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., said she would not vote on any necessary budget bills unless the House opened an impeachment inquiry. Congress has about 12 working days to pass all 12 appropriations bills and get Biden’s signature before the government shuts down on Sept. 30. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., threatened to oust McCarthy from his speakership if impeachment proceedings did not begin.
The White House said caving to their demands would show that the exercise is a “costly, illegitimate, politically-motivated exercise not rooted in reality.”
“If Speaker McCarthy opens an impeachment inquiry simply to throw red meat to his most extreme far-right members like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, it will prove that this is nothing more than an evidence-free political stunt to baselessly attack the president, not a legitimate inquiry to pursue the truth,” Sams said in a statement last week.
Politically unpopular impeachment hearings have hurt the party before. Republicans lost seats in the 1998 midterm elections following the impeachment proceedings into then-president Bill Clinton.
Sams on Tuesday criticized McCarthy’s decision to launch the inquiry on his own after previously promising to bring it to a floor vote. McCarthy in 2019 said then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s move to open an impeachment inquiry against Trump without a floor vote made it “completely devoid of any merit or legitimacy.”
McCarthy did not give reasoning for forgoing a vote on impeachment but it suggests he may not have had the support within his caucus to garner the 218 votes needed to do so. Several Republican members of the House have thrown cold water on the idea of impeachment in recent weeks.
Rep. Ken Buck, R-Co., a member of the Freedom Caucus, called the situation “absurd” in an interview with MSNBC.
“The time for impeachment is the time when there’s evidence linking President Biden — if there’s evidence linking President Biden — to a high crime or misdemeanor. That doesn’t exist right now,” Buck said. “And it is really something that we can say, well, in February, we’re going to do this. It’s based on the facts. You go where the facts take you.”