Analysis | Republicans tiptoe toward an impeachment inquiry

Analysis | Republicans tiptoe toward an impeachment inquiry

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In today’s edition … What we’re watching: Hunter Biden set to plead guilty to tax crimes … As inflation falls, GOP may have to rethink attacks on Biden economy … U.S. and China compete for influence in the Pacific … but first …

Republicans tiptoe toward an impeachment inquiry

House Republicans are inching closer to impeaching President Biden — but the effort has a long way to go.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told lawmakers and some members of his leadership team in a meeting in his office on Tuesday that he’s “moving closer” to opening an impeachment inquiry but said he’s not yet ready to do so, according to two people in the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal conversations. 

His remarks came after he told Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Monday night that Republicans’ investigations into Biden and his family are “rising to the level of impeachment inquiry.”

But McCarthy has drawn a distinction between starting an inquiry — which would open an investigation into whether Biden committed high crimes and misdemeanors — and voting to impeach Biden.

  • “Impeachment inquiry is not impeachment,” McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday.

Republicans say they’re considering opening an impeachment inquiry because the White House has stonewalled investigations into allegations against Biden.

House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.), for instance, subpoenaed FBI Director Christopher Wray in May seeking a document detailing allegations made during the Trump administration by a confidential informant about Biden and his family. The FBI eventually allowed Comer and Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.), the top Democrat on the committee, to review the document in a secure area.

“The allegation contained in the document was reviewed by the FBI at the time and was found to not be supported by facts, and the investigation was subsequently dropped with the Trump Justice Department’s sign-off,” people familiar with the investigation told our colleagues Perry Stein, Jackie Alemany and Devlin Barrett.

“They’ve made us jump through many hoops to get some of the most basic information, to try to delay,” McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday.

Starting an impeachment inquiry, he added, would give Republicans “the full power to get the information they need.”

But Republicans say they want to start an impeachment inquiry because the large amounts of evidence they’ve amassed to date is strong enough to warrant it.

“I told him what we’re sitting on, and I told him the next steps,” Comer told reporters Tuesday, referring to McCarthy. “And I think he felt confident enough [on Monday] on the Hannity show to say that we’re taking the preliminary steps towards impeachment inquiry.”

Ian Sams, a White House spokesman, described the two competing arguments on Tuesday as “literally nonsensical.”

McCarthy’s openness to an impeachment inquiry comes as he’s trying to keep members of the House Freedom Caucus from derailing government funding bills that they say don’t cut spending deeply enough. Some — including Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), the No. 4 House Republican — have also pressed for a vote on expunging former president Donald Trump’s impeachments, although it’s unclear whether that’s constitutional. 

Members of the Freedom Caucus praised McCarthy on Tuesday for edging closer to impeachment.

“At bare minimum, we should be doing an impeachment inquiry to determine whether we should go forward with impeachment or not,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.).

Republicans who represented battleground districts that Biden won were reluctant to talk about a potential inquiry Tuesday night, pivoting instead to discuss Republicans’ existing investigation of Biden. Asked whether moving toward impeaching Biden would help his reelection chances, Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.), who represents a swing district and who voted to impeach Trump in 2021 over his role in fomenting the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, said he hadn’t “decided yet.”

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who led the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998, said Republicans don’t need to worry about the political repercussions. Voters supported the impeachment of President Richard Nixon — who resigned in 1974 before he could be impeached — even though Nixon had won reelection overwhelmingly two years earlier, he pointed out.

Still, Gingrich doesn’t support impeaching Biden.

  • “It’s a good idea to go to the inquiry stage,” Gingrich told The Early. But “impeachment itself is a terrible idea.”

“The only short-term consequence of a successful impeachment is [Vice President] Kamala Harris [becoming president], and Kamala would be such a total disaster for the country that Biden’s corruption is probably preferable to her incompetence,” he added.

If Biden were to be impeached, the Senate would hold a trial to determine whether to remove him from office — and Republican senators sounded skeptical of such an effort on Tuesday.

  • “It’s getting to be a habit around here,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), referring to Trump’s 2019 and 2021 impeachments.
  • “I think the best way to change the presidency is win the election,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Republican. 
  • “The bar is high crimes and misdemeanors, and that hasn’t been alleged at this stage,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted to convict Trump during his impeachment trials.

And Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) echoed Gingrich in warning against impeachment.

“I think people don’t want Kamala Harris to take over,” Barrasso said. 

Thanks to our colleague Marianna Sotomayor for contributing reporting.

Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.), minority whip and the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the House, will speak with Leigh Ann for Washington Post Live today at 11 a.m. Eastern. They’ll discuss the Democrats’ agenda, the path to winning the majority in 2024 and news of the day. Watch here

Melinda French Gates, a philanthropist, business executive and longtime advocate for gender equality, will speak with Leigh Ann for Washington Post Live on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. Eastern. They’ll discuss her efforts to help more women run for public office in the United States, how she sees the structural barriers holding women back and her approach to philanthropy. Watch here

Funding bills: The House Rules Committee advanced the military construction and veterans affairs funding bill Tuesday night, clearing its path to the floor. 

The committee approved votes on 41 amendments, including one by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to cut the diversity and inclusion office at the Department of Veterans Affairs and another to cut funding for the NATO Security Investment Program. 

We’ll be watching whether it has the votes to pass. Democratic leaders are encouraging their members to vote against it. 

Meanwhile, Republican leadership is still working to figure out a path on a bill to fund agriculture, food security programs and the Food and Drug Administration.

The stalemate comes as some members of the Freedom Caucus want deeper cuts than Republicans legislated in committee.

“We have our policies in there that were reflective of what we thought the Freedom Caucus would want,” said Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.), a member of the Appropriations Committee who has expressed concerned that hard-right demands will make it difficult to support the agriculture bill. 

Republicans leaving McCarthy’s office after discussing the funding bills said passage will depend on whether they can limit the number of controversial amendments offered from the right that would further reduce funding for farm and food subsidy programs and eliminate diversity programs. 

The border: Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will testify before the Judiciary Committee in an oversight hearing. While this is not a hearing about impeachment, many of the Republican members want to impeach him. 

Hunter Biden, the president’s son, will appear before U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika in Delaware this morning, where he is expected to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax crimes and admit to the facts of a gun charge.

Asylum: Starting today, the Biden administration has 14 days to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that struck down an asylum policy that penalizes migrants who cross the border illegally or fail to seek protection in another country like Mexico. U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar of California’s Northern District delayed his ruling to give the administration time to appeal. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit will hear the challenge. We’re waiting to see the administration’s appeal and how the 9th Circuit rules.

The Federal Reserve is slated to raise interest rates for the 11th time in 16 months, by a quarter of a percentage point, at the conclusion of today’s policy meeting, per our colleague Rachel Siegel. “The Fed will announce its rate hike decision at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Then at 2:30 p.m., Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell will appear at a news conference, where he is likely to get questions on plans for interest rates, the odds of a recession and the path of inflation, especially on key categories that haven’t shown much progress.”

Best of America, a super PAC backing North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s presidential campaign, has trimmed its $5.5 million TV and radio ad buy to $1.4 million. The reason: Burgum’s campaign said Tuesday that he had polled high enough in four polls to qualify for the first primary debate next month, obviating the need for a big advertising blitz for now.

As inflation falls, GOP may have to rethink attacks on Biden economy

Back to the drawing board: “For most of President Biden’s term, the fastest inflation in four decades provided Republicans with no shortage of ripe targets for political attacks over his economic stewardship, emerging as the central talking point of their 2022 midterm campaigns and the early 2024-presidential election campaigns,” our colleague Jeff Stein reports.

  • “But now that message may no longer be as powerful. Inflation has eased to 3 percent on an annual basis, down from 9 percent last year, and workers’ earnings are beginning to outpace rising costs. Economists’ fears of an imminent recession have abated as well, and Biden administration officials are eager to tout the billions of dollars in private investment unleashed from legislation on semiconductors and clean energy that they pushed through Congress.”
  • “These developments have led Republican analysts to begin early discussions about whether, or how, the party should adjust its attacks on Biden to account for the new economic reality.”
  • “For now, most are convinced that the scars of inflation remain deep enough for the issue to serve as a central electoral message a year from now. But some conservatives acknowledge that may be shifting as the rate of price hikes levels off.”

U.S. and China compete for influence in the Pacific

Closing the gap: “As Washington fears that Beijing is outcompeting it in even the tiniest of countries, the Biden administration is rushing to boost long-dormant ties to island nations across the region where China has a strong presence,” our colleagues Michael Birnbaum and Rachel Pannett write

  • “Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week became the first-ever Cabinet official to visit Tonga, dedicating a new U.S. Embassy in this low-lying capital, and other officials are due to fan across Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, Palau and elsewhere in the weeks to come, seeking to close the gap in a region that administration officials acknowledge has gotten ‘short shrift.’”
  • “The question will be whether Washington’s enticements can be enough to corral nations where China has a years-long head start.”

Thanks for reading. You can also follow us on Twitter: @theodoricmeyer and @LACaldwellDC.

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