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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

House approves Biden impeachment inquiry as it hunts for an offense

Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) speaks during a news conference about Republican efforts to approve a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden at the Capitol in Washington on Dec. 13, 2023. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

By Luke Broadwater

The House voted earlier this week to formally open an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, pushing forward with a yearlong Republican investigation that has failed to produce evidence of anything approaching high crimes or misdemeanors.

Republicans said the vote was needed to give them full authority to continue carrying out their investigation amid anticipated legal challenges from the White House. Democrats have denounced the inquiry as a fishing expedition and a political stunt.

GOP leaders refrained for months from calling a vote to open an impeachment inquiry, given the reservations of mainstream Republicans, many of them from politically competitive districts, about moving forward without proof that Biden had done anything wrong. Instead, Kevin McCarthy, the speaker at the time, unilaterally announced one in September as he was facing pressure from the far right to deliver on its priorities, including impeaching the president.

But Wednesday’s vote underscored how the political ground has shifted, with House Republicans unanimously willing to endorse an inquiry even as some emphasized that they were not yet ready to charge the president. The 221-212 vote was along party lines, with all Republicans voting to approve the inquiry and all Democrats opposed.

“Instead of doing anything to help make Americans’ lives better, they are focused on attacking me with lies,” Biden said of Republicans in a statement not long after. “Instead of doing their job on the urgent work that needs to be done, they are choosing to waste time on this baseless political stunt that even Republicans in Congress admit is not supported by facts.”

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., chair of the Rules Committee, portrayed the vote as a largely procedural step to shore up the House’s investigatory powers.

“Since September, the House has been engaged in an impeachment inquiry, examining whether sufficient grounds exist for the House to exercise constitutional power to impeach the president of the United States,” Cole said. “Today’s resolution simply formalizes that inquiry and grants the House full authority to enforce its subpoenas that have been denied as recently as today.”

But Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said there was nothing but rank politics at play.

“We are here for one reason and one reason alone: Donald Trump demanded that Republicans impeach, so they are going to impeach,” McGovern said. “They are weaponizing and abusing impeachment, one of the most somber and serious things that Congress can do, to attack President Joe Biden.”

The vote unfolded just hours after Hunter Biden, the president’s son and a main focus of the Republican investigation, defied a subpoena to sit for a private deposition.

In a dramatic moment outside the Capitol on Wednesday morning, the younger Biden held a news conference in which he repeated his offer to publicly testify in the investigation into his father but insisted again that he would not be interviewed behind closed doors. He has said he fears that Republicans would leak selectively from his testimony in efforts to distort it.

The Republicans leading the impeachment inquiry, including Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, chair of the Oversight Committee, and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, chair of the Judiciary Committee, threatened to hold Hunter Biden in contempt of Congress if he does not comply with demands for private testimony.

“We think he should come in, and so if he doesn’t, we’re going to move forward with contempt proceedings,” Jordan said.

Since winning the majority, House Republicans have been investigating myriad aspects of Joe Biden’s family and administration, hunting for evidence that could be used to prove he is corrupt and should be impeached. Former President Donald Trump, still seething over being impeached twice, has urged on their investigation at every step.

The Republican inquiry has focused heavily on Hunter Biden, who is under indictment on federal tax and gun charges, and the work he did for companies and partners overseas. They are also examining whether the Biden administration interfered with the Justice Department investigation of Hunter Biden and whether Joe Biden mishandled classified documents when he was vice president or a senator.

Using their subpoena power, Republicans have obtained more than 36,000 pages of bank records; 2,000 pages of suspicious activity reports from the Treasury Department; and dozens of hours of testimony from two of Hunter Biden’s business partners, a senior official from the National Archives and Records Administration, seven federal agents and three U.S. attorneys.

“President Biden must be held accountable for his lies, corruption and obstruction,” Comer said. “We have a duty to provide the accountability and transparency that Americans demand and deserve.”

The impeachment inquiry resolution does not accuse Biden of any wrongdoing. It authorizes three Republican-led panels to continue their investigations and petition a court for grand jury materials; authorizes subpoenas and retroactively approves many that have already been issued; and allows for the hiring of outside counsel to help with the inquiry.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, who has accused Biden of corruption, said lawmakers are particularly focused on investigating four areas: the millions of dollars Hunter Biden and James Biden, the president’s brother, received from overseas business deals; false or misleading statements Joe Biden made about his son’s work; incidents in which Biden met with or spoke with his son’s business partners; and about $240,000 Biden received from his family members as reimbursement for loans.

Republicans have labored, so far without success, to prove that Biden was enriched by his son’s business dealings. Many of the documents they have produced thus far have, in fact, demonstrated the opposite: that Biden lent money to his son and brother when they were in need, and they later paid him back.

The House Oversight Committee released documents that showed that one of Hunter Biden’s businesses, Owasco PC, made three payments of $1,380 to Joe Biden in 2018 when he was not in office. Republicans said the payments were evidence of corruption. Other documents indicate the money was to pay back his father for helping to cover the cost of a Ford truck.

In a briefing with reporters, Jordan laid out his plan to call in nine more witnesses for questioning within two months.

“We’ll look at all the facts and make a decision,” Jordan said. “Was it obstruction when Joe Biden said all the things he has said that turned out not to be accurate?”

On Wednesday, Hunter Biden said Republicans had invaded his privacy and savaged him personally for six years in the service of a false narrative about his father.

“They ridiculed my struggle with addiction; they belittled my recovery; and they have tried to dehumanize me — all to embarrass and damage my father, who has devoted his entire public life to service,” he said.

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