House Republicans are closing in on a make-or-break moment in their drive to impeach Joe Biden, with GOP centrists remaining highly skeptical of the effort even as its leaders look to decide in January on whether to file formal articles against the president.
Even with a planned deposition of Hunter Biden in the coming weeks, the party remains in a tense spot, with centrists signaling that the party’s investigation hasn’t yet met their bar for an impeachment vote and the right flank ratcheting up pressure to move forward.
It’s all building to a decision on whether to pursue impeachment articles as soon as January. Republicans would likely accuse the president of improperly using his political office to further his family’s business dealings — though they haven’t yet found a smoking gun to that effect and some members acknowledge that seems increasingly unlikely. Impeachment advocates are still probing other issues as well, such as the federal investigation that resulted in a failed plea deal for Hunter Biden.
“We get those depositions done this year and … then we can decide on whether or not there’s articles,” House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told POLITICO, predicting that decision would happen early next year.
But a familiar obstacle for Republicans stands in their way here, too: their thin majority. Though Republicans can draft and file articles without a locked-in whip count, impeachment backers will need near unanimity to actually recommend booting Biden from office, since it’s virtually assured no Democrat would vote to impeach Biden.
Ending an impeachment inquiry without a vote — or a failed one — would be an embarrassing political setback both for hardliners and Speaker Mike Johnson, who conservatives view as their ally on the issue. But centrists remain unconvinced that impeachment is necessary, and what’s more, that group has grown increasingly willing to buck leadership after the three-week speaker fight and with 2024 drawing closer.
“Any kind of an impeachment puts our Biden people in a really tough spot,” a GOP lawmaker involved in the investigation, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly, said in an interview. “Impeachment hurts us politically — it makes our base feel better.”
Republicans are aware that the deeper they go into 2024 the larger the shadow of the upcoming election looms, both for Biden and their own vulnerable members. And there’s no guarantee any potential political benefits of keeping the conversation in the spotlight into the presidential election will negate the added pressure on Biden-district Republicans.
“We understand that the further you go toward an election, the more politicized these conversations become. That’s why it’s all the more important for us to begin to take action sooner rather than later,” said Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.), a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Jordan estimated that he and Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) have a dozen to 15 interviews they still want to finish by the end of the year. At least one of those interviews is likely to spill over into January: Elizabeth Hirsh Naftali, who purchased Hunter Biden artwork. Jordan, Comer and Ways and Means Committee Chair Jason Smith (R-Mo.) also briefed Johnson on the status of their Biden investigations last week.
And more fights on that front could further drag out the inquiry. Comer has said that he wants to hold individuals who don’t comply with the subpoenas in contempt, though he acknowledged that it’s a decision for the conference. If anyone in Republicans’ final batch of interviews fights a subpoena in court, that could tee off a lengthy legal challenge.
Not to mention, decisions on impeachment could easily run into a pair of government funding deadlines in mid-January and early February. But conservatives are eager to move the impeachment effort to its next phase, with the Judiciary Committee expected to take the lead on drafting any formal articles.
“I think it needs to move with alacrity. I’ve always felt that we should be able to move faster. … But I do anticipate that it comes to Judiciary soon,” said Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), a member of that panel.
Republicans are months into their sweeping investigation into the Biden family. They’ve poked holes in some of Joe Biden’s and the White House’s previous statements and found examples of Hunter Biden trading on his family name, including invoking his father to try to bolster his own influence. But they’ve struggled to find a direct link that shows Biden took official actions as president or vice president to benefit his family’s business deals.
But Republicans aren’t putting all their bets on the one basket. They’ve hinted that they could also draw obstruction allegations into the impeachment articles, citing any refusal by the Biden administration to cooperate.
Meanwhile, Democrats and the White House are already previewing their rebuttal to that potential charge. They’ve cited a Trump-era Justice Department opinion that states investigative steps and subpoenas initiated so far aren’t valid because Republicans never held a formal vote to start the inquiry — and are likely to point back to fulfilled records requests and interviews.
“House Republicans have already spent a year on their expensive and time-consuming so-called ‘investigation’ and they’ve turned up zero evidence of wrongdoing by President Biden. In fact, their own witnesses and the thousands of pages of documents they’ve obtained have repeatedly debunked their false allegations,” Ian Sams, a White House spokesperson, said in a statement to POLITICO.
GOP lawmakers have also pointed to unproven allegations of bribery as a potential focus of impeachment articles, though they are facing doubt from some colleagues that they will be able to find the kind of direct evidence that shows Joe Biden participated in the sort of “pay for play” scandal that conservatives accuse him of. Oversight Committee Republicans also argued in a memo earlier this year that they didn’t need to show direct payments to Joe Biden to prove “corruption.”
The House GOP has also touted two payments from James Biden to Joe Biden — one for $200,000 and another for $40,000 — as evidence of “money laundering” and the president benefiting from his family’s business deals. The checks from James Biden are earmarked as loan repayments and the White House has said they were a loan, an idea contested by Republicans. Both payments came a month or two after an account that appears to be associated with Joe Biden, based on records reviewed by POLITICO, wired James Biden both $200,000 and $40,000.
“I don’t think we’re going to have a closed-caption video with some Chinese national handing Joe Biden the bank money,” the GOP lawmaker who was granted anonymity said, acknowledging the impeachment case would ride on a “mountain of circumstantial evidence.” But, they argued, some federal prosecutions had been built on similar bases.
Centrists have credited the GOP investigations with uncovering new evidence about Biden family business dealings and raised questions about Biden himself. But they’ve also warned leadership that they don’t want to move forward on a vote without a “smoking gun.” Johnson, during a recent meeting with that faction of the conference, indicated that he wasn’t yet ready to pull the trigger on impeachment, but that they should keep following the evidence, according to two Republicans in the meeting.
Still, that sparked quick pushback from his right flank, who worried that Johnson was trying to quietly pull the plug on impeachment. In a statement late last week that appeared aimed at trying to clear the air, Johnson said the GOP investigators “have my full and unwavering support.”
“Now, the appropriate step is to place key witnesses under oath and question them under the penalty of perjury, to fill gaps in the record,” Johnson said, adding that Republicans are moving “toward an inflection point in this critical investigation.”