By Luke Broadwater
Speaker Mike Johnson earlier this week promised a floor vote to authorize a formal impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden, hoping to provide legal heft to an investigation that has been underway for months but has so far failed to prove Republicans’ claims that Biden accepted bribes.
Republicans have for months avoided scheduling such a vote, lacking support from some mainstream members who were reluctant to endorse a formal impeachment inquiry without any concrete evidence the president committed high crimes and misdemeanors.
But Johnson said Tuesday that all Republicans could now feel comfortable voting to formalize the ongoing inquiry because doing so merely continues an investigation and does not assert any wrongdoing by the president worthy of impeachment.
“This vote is not a vote to impeach President Biden,” Johnson said at a news conference. “This is a vote to continue the inquiry of impeachment, and that’s a necessary constitutional step. I believe we’ll get every vote that we have.”
An aide to Johnson said he planned to call the vote next week, but he cautioned that the schedule remained fluid.
Johnson suggested the vote was necessary for the investigation to be considered legitimate, citing a Nov. 17 letter from Richard Sauber, a special counsel to Biden. Sauber condemned the inquiry and said that recent subpoenas and demands for congressional testimony from the former White House counsel, White House aides and Biden family members were “irresponsible.”
“You also claim the mantle of an ‘impeachment inquiry’ knowing full well that the Constitution requires that the full House authorize an impeachment inquiry before a committee may utilize compulsory process pursuant to the impeachment power — a step the Republican House majority has so far refused to take,” Sauber wrote.
Republicans have engaged in wide-ranging inquiry into Biden for months, hunting for evidence to back up their allegations that he corruptly profited from his family members’ overseas business dealings and accepted bribes. To date, they have failed to deliver compelling evidence to back up their boldest claims.
Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., who hails from a swing district, said the White House’s lack of cooperation with the inquiry had persuaded him to vote in favor of authorizing the investigation.
“Two months ago, it seemed to me the administration was providing information,” Bacon said. “But now this past week, they said, ‘Well, without a formal inquiry vote, we’re not going to give this information.’ So, I feel like we’ve got to do it.”
The Republican investigation has focused heavily on the work that the president’s son Hunter Biden did for companies and partners in Ukraine, China and other countries. 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.
On Tuesday, the Ways and Means Committee pushed forward with the inquiry, holding a closed-door session with two IRS agents who have alleged the Justice Department, under both the Trump and Biden administrations, slow-walked and stymied the investigation into Hunter Biden.
Hunter Biden is under federal indictment on charges of lying about his drug use on a form he filled out to purchase a handgun in 2018.
Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., chair of the Ways and Means Committee, alleged the IRS agents were exposing a “coordinated effort among the DOJ, Hunter Biden’s attorneys and others to stop the tax investigation of Hunter Biden from following any leads to his father, Joe Biden.”
Republicans have labored to prove that Biden was enriched by his son’s business dealings. Many documents they have produced thus far have, in fact, demonstrated the opposite: that Biden lent money to his son and brother, James Biden, when they were in need, and they later paid him back.
On Monday, the House Oversight Committee released documents that showed that one of Hunter Biden’s businesses, Owasco PC, made three payments of $1,380 to his father 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.
Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, the No. 3 House Democrat, accused Republicans of wasting floor time on “baseless accusations and political gamesmanship, instead of voting to lower costs or fund vital services that everyday Americans rely on.”
Johnson has toiled in recent weeks to ingratiate himself with the right after angering many in his party by working with Democrats to avert a government shutdown last month.
On Tuesday, he defended another move aimed at pleasing right-wing activists, saying he had decided to alter security footage he ordered released from the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol to blur the faces of some of the Trump supporters who took part because he did not want online sleuths to identify them, leading to their arrests.
“We have to blur some of the faces of persons who participated in the events of that day because we don’t want them to be retaliated against and to be charged by the DOJ and to have other concerns and problems,” Johnson said.