(WASHINGTON) — Speaker Kevin McCarthy has announced he was ordering House Republicans to launch an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, alleging a “culture of corruption” involving him and his family.
McCarthy had signaled the impeachment inquiry for weeks, but his announcement Tuesday comes at a time when he is facing mounting pressure from GOP hard-liners, who threaten to oust him if he doesn’t follow through on a Biden impeachment.
While Democrats claim the effort is “extremist,” McCarthy claims the move is not political but aimed instead at getting “answers” the American people deserve.
The White House is adamant that the president did nothing wrong, and that there is no evidence to suggest otherwise after an investigation into any relationship between him and Hunter Biden’s business dealings.
ABC News is breaking down all of the layers in this impeachment inquiry, the precedent set in previous such efforts and what the path ahead for McCarthy looks like.
What is an impeachment inquiry, and how does it work?
An impeachment inquiry is an investigation into possible wrongdoing — meaning an inquiry is a step toward potential impeachment.
Typically, the House Judiciary Committee conducts an impeachment inquiry — a process that can include public hearings and subpoenas for information and documents. When the inquiry is over, articles of impeachment are prepared and must be approved by a majority of the committee. The House then debates those articles of impeachment with a majority vote needed to pass each article.
From there, the Senate holds a trial on the articles of impeachment. The Senate has the ability to convict and remove someone from office.
What’s behind this impeachment inquiry?
Republicans have accused President Biden of profiting from the foreign business ventures of his son, Hunter Biden, while he served as vice president from 2009 to 2017.
Hunter Biden has been the subject of several investigations over the last few years, and none has presented substantial evidence supporting McCarthy’s claims. He said Tuesday that House Republicans uncovered “serious and credible allegations into President Biden’s conduct. Taken together, these allegations paint a picture of a culture of corruption.”
“These are allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption and warrant further investigation by the House of Representatives,” McCarthy told reporters.
Most of the Republican accusations are centered on Hunter Biden, but they have accused the president of corruptly influencing Hunter’s business ventures to enrich himself. The White House says they haven’t produced direct evidence to prove that.
The five-year investigation into Hunter Biden has not produced accusations of financial crimes beyond failure to pay taxes.
What’s the timeline?
Leaving the GOP weekly conference meeting Wednesday, McCarthy did not answer a question from ABC News’ Rachel Scott on a timeline for the impeachment inquiry and explained what documents House Republicans still want.
“If you had an FBI informant allege someone was bribed and they used shell companies. How do you prove that? You’d have to get the document. If you have a staffer that worked in the White House, saying the president approved the reason, we’re talking points. You have facts there,” McCarthy said.
“We don’t have any credit card statements from all the credit cards from this, shell companies. We don’t have the president’s bank statements. We don’t have Hunter Biden’s bank statements. Providing information like that would answer the question. All we’re looking at [with the] impeachment inquiry, is answering the question,” the speaker continued.
Impeachment inquiry vote: A brief history
McCarthy did not say if the House will take a vote on the impeachment inquiry during his Tuesday news conference, but his office confirmed to ABC News’ Scott that he does not intend to hold a floor vote, maintaining that the inquiry is “now open.”
He claimed he does not need to hold a formal vote to launch the impeachment inquiry, although the impeachments of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton began with House votes to empower the investigations.
For example: During former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment in 2019, the House voted on an impeachment inquiry only after weeks of closed-door depositions and interviews. The eventual vote on the “inquiry” endorsed the findings of the committees’ investigations and teed up a series of public hearings with experts and fact witnesses to present additional evidence.
However, during Trump’s second impeachment in 2021, the House did not vote on an impeachment inquiry at all. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, like McCarthy is doing now, formally announced the inquiry, but the chamber did not end up voting on it.
What will the inquiry allow the House to do?
McCarthy said he’s directing three House committees to continue their investigation: the House Ways and Means Committee, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the House Judiciary Committee.
McCarthy has said that by launching a formal probe, it would give the House added subpoena powers. It’s unclear as of right now if that’s the case.
McCarthy, for example, has said the inquiry would allow committees to obtain more bank statements and other documents relating to President Biden and his son, Hunter.
One suggestion is that it could give Republicans stronger legal standing if they go to court if the Biden administration refuses to turn over records.
GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene said the impeachment inquiry will allow the House to “continue down the road and present hard proof.” Greene told ABC News’ Scott that the House is currently lacking the “hard proof” needed to impeach the president.
“We don’t have a check, but what we have is mountains of evidence that shows the entire Biden family has been enriched by tens of millions of dollars,” Greene said.
Democrats, for their part, maintain that Republicans have obtained an enormous number of documents and extensive witness testimony and that none of it shows any wrongdoing by President Biden; in fact, they say they believe the evidence gathered proves the opposite.
According to Democrats, Oversight Committee Republicans have received more than 12,000 pages of subpoenaed bank records, reviewed more than 2,000 pages of suspicious activity reports, and spent hours interviewing witnesses, including two former business associates of Hunter Biden.
Why is McCarthy doing this now?
GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz and a few other conservative hard-liners have been pushing McCarthy to deliver an impeachment probe — or face a leadership challenge.
These hard-liners helped McCarthy ascend to the speakership only after he agreed to a list of their demands — including the ability of a single member to call for a quick vote to remove him from office.
The situation is further exacerbated because of the looming federal government spending deadline.
Gaetz and other conservatives have said they will not support a bill to fund the government if McCarthy does not act on impeachment.
In McCarthy’s calculation, this is a win-win for him at the moment: He is seeking to appease these hard-liners on the front end now, so that the chamber can focus on the spending bills as a deadline draws closer at the end of the month. And he can stave off any calls to step down as speaker for not acting on impeachment.
Gaetz, however, reiterated his threat of leadership change during a floor speech Tuesday, saying, “this is a baby step following weeks of pressure from House conservatives to do more.”
“I rise today to serve notice: Mr. Speaker, you are out of compliance with the agreement that allowed you to assume this role,” Gaetz said Tuesday. “The path forward for the House of Representatives is to either bring you into immediate, total compliance or remove you pursuant to a motion to vacate the chair.”
Problems for McCarthy
As of right now, House Republicans likely do not have the 218 votes needed to impeach President Biden, and some Senate Republicans are on record saying they don’t think there’s enough evidence to proceed.
Many Republicans have said they haven’t seen enough evidence against President Biden to support impeachment and/or an impeachment inquiry.
House Republican Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, has said he doesn’t believe the House has produced any evidence that Biden profited from or influenced his son’s foreign business deals.
He has also cast doubt on whether the evidence even exists — which is particularly significant since he is a senior member on the Judiciary Committee that would help oversee an official impeachment inquiry.
Senate Republicans also are not sold on the idea of a third impeachment trial in so many years.
Senators are solely focused on funding the government ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline and have largely said they haven’t seen any evidence against Biden that amounts to impeachment or — conviction in the Senate.
Did McCarthy flip-flop?
McCarthy is getting blowback for making contradictory statements. Last month, he insisted that an impeachment inquiry should be launched only after a House vote is taken.
“If we move forward with an impeachment inquiry, it would occur through a vote on the floor of the People’s House and not through a declaration by one person,” he said last month in an interview with Brietbart.
Yet, on Tuesday, McCarthy and his team are indicating a vote is not expected.
In 2019, McCarthy introduced a symbolic resolution slamming Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, which was initially launched without a vote.
In that resolution he wrote that then-Speaker Pelosi’s “extraordinary decision to move forward with an impeachment inquiry without any debate or vote on such a resolution by the full House undermines the voting privileges afforded to each Member and the constituents they represent,” and represented an “abuse of power and brings discredit to the House of Representatives.”
On Wednesday, the speaker said “I never changed my position” when asked by ABC News’ Scott about his August comments to Breitbart.
“Nancy Pelosi changed the precedent of this House on Sept. 24. It was withheld and good enough for every single Democrat here. It was good enough for the judge. Why didn’t it have to be different today? What we’ve learned in the last couple of weeks wouldn’t you want to know the answer to?” McCarthy said.
White House response
White House spokesperson Ian Sams responded to McCarthy’s call for a formal impeachment inquiry.
“House Republicans have been investigating the President for 9 months, and they’ve turned up no evidence of wrongdoing His own GOP members have said so. He vowed to hold a vote to open impeachment, now he flip flopped because he doesn’t have support. Extreme politics at its worst,” Sams wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
The White House also argued that even some Republicans have acknowledged that there doesn’t seem to be evidence to merit an impeachment inquiry.
Among those Republicans was Rep. Dave Joyce of Ohio, who told Forbes he is “not seeing facts or evidence” that would merit an impeachment inquiry. Also, Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota told CNN that “there is a constitutional and legal test that you have to meet with evidence” when it comes to impeachment and that he has “not seen that evidence.”
Republican Rep. Mike Lawler of New York said, “With respect to impeachment, we’re not there yet.”
The White House also notes McCarthy’s flip-flop on the impeachment vote could be a sign he simply doesn’t have the votes.
The Biden campaign has also put a statement slamming McCarthy for “doing Donald Trump’s bidding.”
“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. 11 days ago, McCarthy unequivocally said he would not move forward with an impeachment inquiry without holding a vote on the House floor. What has changed since then?” spokesperson Ammar Moussa said.
The White House is urging news organizations to ramp up their scrutiny of Republicans for what it said was “opening an impeachment inquiry based on lies.”
“When even House Republican members are admitting that there is simply no evidence that Joe Biden did anything wrong, much less impeachable, that should set off alarm bells for news organizations,” Sams says in a memo to media executives Wednesday morning.
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