Why do Republicans want to impeach Joe Biden?

House speaker Mike Johnson insists congressional inquiry is necessary to examine accusations against the president and his son and does not amount to a political vendetta

Joe Sommerlad
Thursday 14 December 2023 21:46 GMT
Fox reporter Peter Doocy says House Republicans have no ‘concrete evidence’ with which to impeach Joe Biden
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Louise Thomas

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Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted to formalise their ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden over accusations that he profited from his son Hunter Biden’s overseas business dealings.

A resolution in support of the inquiry passed 221 to 212 on Wednesday 13 December, with Republicans and Democrats voting along party lines and no one breaking ranks to rebel.

So far, no evidence has been produced to prove any wrongdoing against the Bidens, but House speaker Mike Johnson has insisted that the investigation is necessary and not a spurious political vendetta against a commander-in-chief his side disapproves of, as Democrats have alleged.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday ahead of the vote, he insisted: “We have to take the next step.”

Mr Johnson continued: “We’re not making a political decision. It’s not. It’s a legal decision. People have feelings about it one way or the other. We can’t prejudge the outcome; the Constitution does not permit us to do so. We have to follow the truth where it takes us. And that is exactly what we’re going to do.”

The counterargument was made forcefully in response by California congressman Pete Aguilar, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, who said simply: “It’s painfully obvious that they are trying to hurt President Biden politically to help Donald Trump get re-elected.”

That sentiment was echoed by Hunter Biden himself prior to the vote on Wednesday after he refused to appear before a private hearing and instead told reporters on Capitol Hill that “Maga Republicans” had spent six years invading his personal life and discrediting his father for political gain.

He accused his enemies of “having distorted the facts by cherrypicking lines from a bank statement, manipulating texts I sent, editing the testimony of my friends and former business partners, and misstating personal information that was stolen from me”.

He continued: “There is no fairness or decency in what these Republicans are doing. They have lied over and over about every aspect of my personal and professional life, so much so that their lives have become the false facts believed by too many people.”

Why is the impeachment inquiry being pursued?

The House Republicans’ inquiry was first announced by Mr Johnson’s predecessor in the chair, Kevin McCarthy, on Tuesday 12 September.

Mr McCarthy chose not to hold a floor vote at the time despite having protested against the Democrats’ decision to proceed in the same manner when Mr Trump was first investigated with a view to impeachment in autumn 2018.

“These are allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption, and they warrant further investigation by the House of Representatives,” Mr McCarthy said in his statement.

Referring to House Oversight Committee member James Comer’s preliminary probe into the accusations against America’s 46th commander-in-chief, the then-speaker said: “Through our investigations we have found that President Biden did lie to the American people about his own knowledge of his family’s foreign business dealers.

“Eyewitnesses have testified that the president joined on multiple phones and had multiple interactions, dinners that resulted in millions of dollars into his son and his son’s business partners.”

He claimed the allegations together “paint a picture of corruption” and vowed the House would “go wherever the evidence takes us”.

Mr McCarthy – who has since been ousted by his own side – said the inquiry would be led by Mr Comer, House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan and House Ways and Means Committee chairman Jason Smith.

Hunter Biden and Joe Biden
Hunter Biden and Joe Biden (AP)

Mr Johnson subsequently argued his side had “no choice” but to change tack and hold a ballot after all, accusing the White House of obstructing the investigation’s progress and saying that the full support of the lower chamber was needed to secure increased subpoena power for the inquiry.

“We’ve come to this impasse where following the facts where they lead is hitting a stone wall because the White House is impeding that investigation now,” he said.

The White House has challenged some of the inquiry’s requests, arguing: “The Constitution requires that the full House authorise an impeachment inquiry before a committee may utilise compulsory process pursuant to the impeachment power”.

However, it says it has also given House Republicans access to 35,000 pages of private financial records and at least 36 hours of testimony.

Ian Sams, the White House’s spokesman for oversight and investigations, has dismissed the House inquiry as a “wild goose chase” wasting taxpayers’ money and a “baseless stunt”.

“The American people are yet again going to see a clear contrast in priorities: President Biden, who is focused on solving the challenges facing America and the world, and extreme House Republicans, who only focus on stupid stunts to get attention for themselves,” he said.

What is the background to the case?

The charge to impeach Mr Biden was previously led by Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has failed in the endeavour on at least six previous occasions since the veteran Democrat entered the Oval Office in January 2021.

Ms Greene had already filed House resolutions proposing to open impeachment inquiries into Mr Biden over a baseless Republican conspiracy theory concerning his dealings in Ukraine as vice president in 2016, his extension of the federal Covid-19 eviction moratorium, his handling of US-Mexico border security (twice), the US withdrawal of military personnel from Afghanistan and claims that he endangered American energy security by selling oil to foreign nations.

Marjorie Taylor Greene
Marjorie Taylor Greene (Getty)

Randy Weber, Bob Gibbs, Lauren Boebert, Bill Posey, Louie Gohmert, Andy Ogles and Greg Steube have likewise all filed impeachment motions of their own against the president to the 117th and 118th Congress, all of which have simply been politely referred on to the House Judiciary Committee and never heard of again.

This time, the populist wing of the GOP is determined to haul Mr Biden and his troubled son over the coals on the question of the latter’s corporate interests and over whether the Biden administration’s Justice Department has intervened on the younger man’s behalf during the ongoing criminal case against him.

Are all Republicans convinced?

No, not all House Republicans are behind the project.

Colorado’s Ken Buck, who serves on the House Freedom Caucus alongside Ms Greene, told Jen Psaki on MSNBC on Sunday 10 September that he did not believe there was any evidence to suggest that Mr Biden had committed high crimes or a misdemeanour, the threshold for commencing an impeachment.

“The time for impeachment is the time when there’s evidence linking President Biden – if there’s evidence linking President Biden to a high crime or misdemeanour. That doesn’t exist right now,” he said.

“Marjorie filed impeachment, articles of impeachment, on President Biden before he was sworn into office more than two and a half years ago.

“So the idea that she is now the expert on impeachment or that she is someone who should set the timing on impeachment is absurd.”

Speaking to ABC, Don Bacon of Nebraska said that a vote to impeach Mr Biden was by no means an inevitability.

“I may be an outlier on this. I think it’s more important to have this information for the elections, let the voters decide,” he said.

“And I don’t know that you’re gonna see a high crime or misdemeanour, but I think the voters deserve to know what did the Bidens do.”

How have Democrats responded?

Before Mr McCarthy first announced the inquiry, Jamie Raskin, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, attempted to shoot down the impeachment push before it got started by issuing a letter arguing that Mr Comer’s initial efforts to investigate the president had only served to reveal that his case was full of holes.

In a lengthy document released on Monday 11 September, Mr Raskin noted the failure of Republicans to obtain testimony from any witnesses actually alleging the occurrence of wrongdoing by the president, including from supposed GOP star witness Devon Archer.

Jamie Raskin
Jamie Raskin (AP)

A former friend of the younger Biden, Mr Archer testified to the committee that Hunter Biden had sought to profit from his surname and presumed family connections but denied any knowledge of the man’s father actually being involved or having any awareness of that fact.

The letter also addressed the inability of Republicans to prove that any money connected to Hunter Biden’s business ventures ever found its way to his father.

“Rather than owning up to the fact that the evidence in his ‘top priority’ investigation has established no wrongdoing by President Biden, Chairman Comer has resorted to misrepresenting and distorting this huge body of evidence to make baseless and sensationalistic claims,” Mr Raskin wrote.

“Chairman Comer has repeatedly, and without evidence, asserted the falsehood that President Biden has inappropriately received foreign money.”

When the vote was finally held on House floor on Wednesday, Mr Raskin once more made the case forcefully and declared: “It’s like an Agatha Christie novel where the mystery is: what’s the crime? After 11 months of this, no one can tell us what President Biden’s crime was, much less when it happened, where it happened, what the motive was, who the perpetrators were.”

The Congressional Integrity Project, a left-leaning watchdog, also issued its own assessment of Mr Comer’s work, branding it “eight months of abject failure”.

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