By LISA MASCARO and FARNOUSH AMIRI (Associated Press)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday he is directing a House committee to open an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden over his family’s business dealings, launching historic proceedings ahead of the 2024 election.
McCarthy said the House Oversight Committee’s investigation so far has found a “culture of corruption” around the Biden family as Republicans probe the business dealings of the president’s son, Hunter Biden, from before the Democratic president took office.
“These are allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption, and they warrant further investigation by the House of Representatives,” McCarthy, R-Calif., said outside the speaker’s office at the Capitol.
“That’s why today I am directing our House committee to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden,” he said.
The announcement comes as the Republican leader faces mounting pressure from his right flank to take action against Biden or risk being ousted from his leadership job — while he also is struggling to pass legislation needed to avoid a federal government shutdown at the end of the month.
McCarthy is launching the inquiry on his own, without a House vote, as he may not not have enough support from his slim GOP majority. Some Republicans have panned the effort as unwarranted, not seeing evidence that reaches the Constitution’s bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The White House called it “extreme politics at its worst.”
“House Republicans have been investigating the President for nine months, and they’ve turned up no evidence of wrongdoing,” said White House spokesman Ian Sams.
The White House and others pointed to McCarthy’s past statements when he insisted a speaker could not unilaterally launch an impeachment inquiry or it would have no legitimacy.
McCarthy “flipflopped because he doesn’t have support,” Sams said.
An inquiry is step toward impeachment, and McCarthy essentially outlined the potential charges. He is planning to convene lawmakers behind closed doors this week to discuss the Biden impeachment, and top House chairmen are heading Wednesday to brief the Senate.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has warned House Republicans off the effort, but said Tuesday: “I don’t think Speaker McCarthy needs advice from the Senate.”
The Republican speaker is once again at a political crossroads — trying to keep his most conservative lawmakers satisfied and prevent his own ouster. It’s a familiar political bind for McCarthy, who is juggling the impeachment inquiry and a government shutdown threat with no clear end game.
Government funding is to run out on Sept. 30, which is the end of the federal fiscal year, and Congress must pass new funding bills or risk a shutdown and the interruption of government services.
Minutes after McCarthy spoke a chief Republican critic stood on the House floor deriding the inquiry as “a baby step” and reviving the threat of ousting the speaker. “We must move faster,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.
The White House has insisted Biden was not involved in his son’s business dealings. And Democrats are stepping up to fight against what they view as unfounded claims against him ahead of the 2024 election as Republicans attempt to blur the lines with Donald Trump, who is the Republican frontrunner in a comeback bid for the White House.
Former President Trump was twice impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate. He now faces more serious charges in court, indicted four times this year, including for trying to overturn the 2020 election Biden won.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the impeachment inquiry “absurd.”
House Republicans are probing the business dealings of Hunter Biden but so far have not produced hard evidence linking them and the president. They have shown a few instances largely during the time the elder Biden was Barack Obama’s vice president when he spoke by phone with his son and stopped by dinners his son was hosting with business partners.
An impeachment inquiry would provide more heft to the House investigation, especially as it battles in court for access to Biden family financial records.
Republicans contend the Justice Department has not fully probed the allegations against Hunter Biden, and say he received preferential treatment in what they call a sweetheart plea deal that recently collapsed. The Department of Justice has appointed a special prosecutor in that probe.
“We will go wherever the evidence takes us,” McCarthy said.
What’s unclear is if McCarthy even has the support of rank-and-file Republicans behind him, as he decided to launch the formal proceedings without yet putting it to the test with a House vote.
McCarthy holds just a slim majority in the House, and several Republicans have said they see no evidence to warrant an impeachment inquiry into Biden, especially amid all the other challenges facing Congress.
Rep. James Comer, the Republican chairman leading the Oversight Committee, is digging into the Biden family finances and is expected to seek banking records for Hunter Biden as the panel tries to follow the flow of money.
On Tuesday, Comer demanded the State Department produce documents about the work Biden did as vice president during the Obama administration to clean up corruption in Ukraine. Comer wants to understand the State Department’s views of former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin, whom Biden and many Western allies wanted removed from office because of allegations of corruption.
This comes as federal government funding is set to run out on Sept. 30, which is the end of the federal fiscal year, and Congress must pass new funding bills or risk a shutdown and the interruption of government services.
Conservatives who power McCarty’s majority want to slash spending, and the hard right is unwilling to approve spending levels the speaker negotiated with Biden earlier this year.
McCarthy is trying to float a 30-day stopgap measure to keep government running to Nov. 1, but conservatives are balking at what’s called a continuing resolution, or CR, as they pursue cuts.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., said late Monday exiting McCarthy’s office she has “red lines” against any new money being spent for COVID-19 vaccines or mandates or Russia’s war in Ukraine.
And Gaetz of Florida, a top Trump ally, said if McCarthy puts a continuing resolution on the floor for passage he will face blowback from conservatives with a motion to to vacate the chair and oust him from office.
It will be “shot-chaser,” Gaetz warned. “Continuing resolution, motion to vacate.”
At the start of the year, Gaetz and other Republicans secured agreements from McCarthy as he struggled to win their votes to become House speaker.
Under the House rules, McCarthy’s opponents are able to call a vote at any time to try to oust the speaker from office.
Associated Press writers Stephen Groves, Kevin Freking and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.