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Speaker McCarthy says House to start an impeachment inquiry into President Biden

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks at the Capitol on Tuesday.
J. Scott Applewhite
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks at the Capitol on Tuesday.

Updated September 12, 2023 at 2:05 PM ET

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Tuesday the House would initiate an impeachment inquiry into President Biden amid threats to McCarthy's speakership from members of the right flank of his own party.

"I am directing our House committees to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden," he said. "This logical next step will give our committees the full power to gather all the facts and answers" that the American people want.

The move comes as McCarthy is facing increasing pressure from a bloc of hard-line conservative Republicans. Members of the House Freedom Caucus have also demanded steep spending cuts that would violate an existing agreement with the White House and could force a government shutdown in the coming weeks. The threats have created a political morass for McCarthy at a time when Congress is struggling to complete basic tasks of governance.

The impeachment announcement is an escalation from July when McCarthy said he was waiting for committees investigating Biden and his son Hunter to recommend next steps.

A spokesperson for the White House called McCarthy's decision "extreme politics at its worst." Ian Sams said on X (formally known as Twitter) that House Republicans had not turned up any evidence of wrongdoing during the past nine months, and slammed McCarthy for not holding a vote to open the inquiry, as he had once pledged he would do.

McCarthy outlines his case

McCarthy justified the move saying Biden lied to "the American people about his own knowledge of his family's foreign business dealings."

He said witnesses have testified that Biden joined on multiple phone calls and had multiple interactions, and that "nearly $20 million in payments were directed to the Biden family members and associates through various shell companies."

Devon Archer, a business associate of Hunter Biden's, told a committee in a closed-door deposition recently that then-vice president Biden sent greetings when Hunter hosted conference calls with clients and stopped by briefly at business dinners, but Archer conceded he did not have any evidence that he received any direct financial benefit as a result of any of these interactions.

At the Capitol Tuesday, McCarthy said that Biden "used his official office to coordinate with Hunter Biden's business partners, about Hunter's role in Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company."

"It appears that the president's family has been offered special treatment by Biden's own administration," treatment his son would not otherwise have received if he were not related to the president, McCarthy said. "These are allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption and they warrant further investigation by the House of Representatives."

House Republicans haven't uncovered any evidence of any wrongdoing by President Biden. Some are alleging corruption around his son Hunter's business dealings when Biden was vice president. But House committee chairmen who are pushing impeachment haven't produced any evidence that the president received any financial benefit.

The Biden campaign blamed McCarthy's impeachment decision on former Republican President Donald Trump, who is vying to lead his party in the 2024 presidential race.

"As Donald Trump ramped up his demands for a baseless impeachment inquiry, Kevin McCarthy cemented his role as the Trump campaign's super-surrogate by turning the House of Representatives into an arm of his presidential campaign," said Ammar Moussa, spokesperson for the campaign, in a statement.

Impeachment inquiry could exacerbate GOP divisions

McCarthy did not take any questions after his announcement. He recently told Breitbart that any impeachment inquiry "would occur through a vote on the floor of the People's House and not through a declaration by one person."

But it's unclear whether any formal resolution would have the votes to pass. Republicans hold a narrow majority in the House and he can only afford to lose four votes on a measure that is not expected to get any support from Democrats.

Asked about holding a vote on the House floor a McCarthy spokesman told NPR "he announced the opening of the inquiry."

Several politically vulnerable moderate Republicans, like Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., have been skeptical of an impeachment inquiry.

Buck said this weekend on MSNBC that while the House committees are surfacing information about Biden's son Hunter, it is clear that impeachment cannot get through the Senate.

"There is not a strong connection at this point between the evidence on Hunter Biden and any evidence connecting the president," Buck said. "So I am more focused on the issues that I think Americans care deeply about."

Others, including Reps. Don Bacon, R-Neb., and Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., have said publicly they weren't there yet and need to see additional evidence to back up a case for any articles of impeachment.

Mr. Speaker, you are out compliance with the agreement that allowed you to assume this role. The path forward for the House of Representatives is to either bring you into immediate total compliance or remove you.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has repeatedly warned against another impeachment inquiry and has criticized House Republicans for caving to hard-line members on spending. But that criticism has not deterred members of the Freedom Caucus.

In a speech on the House floor, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said McCarthy was "rushed and rattled" and said the impeachment announcement amounted to a "baby step" toward meeting hard-line demands.

"Mr. Speaker, you are out compliance with the agreement that allowed you to assume this role," Gaetz said. "The path forward for the House of Representatives is to either bring you into immediate total compliance or remove you."

Trump also weighed in recently on his social media platform, pressuring House Republicans to move on impeachment: "Either IMPEACH the BUM, or fade into OBLIVION."

Many Senate Republicans have suggested they will wait to see what an inquiry can uncover.

There's been no allegation of a high crime or misdemeanor that has met the constitutional test and that's a very different matter and we'll see if that arises.

"The inquiry follows the fact that Hunter Biden was shaking down foreign entities for millions of dollars," said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah. "That's just ugly and the White House has been silent about that and has invited Hunter Biden to a State Dinner and has not indicated what it is the president knew and so there will be an inquiry of that."

Romney was one of seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict Trump during his second impeachment trial in 2021, following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Romney said that in Biden's case there is more investigation to be done.

"There's been no allegation of a high crime or misdemeanor that has met the constitutional test and that's a very different matter and we'll see if that arises," he said.

When asked about House Republicans pressing ahead, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters, "I think they need to go where the facts lead them."

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Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.