UNITED STATES NEWS

House approves impeachment inquiry into President Biden as Republicans rally behind investigation

Dec 12, 2023, 4:30 PM | Updated: Dec 13, 2023, 5:30 pm

FILE - Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks at the Capitol in Washington, Nov. 29, 2023...

FILE - Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks at the Capitol in Washington, Nov. 29, 2023. The House is pushing toward a vote to authorize the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden formally. This comes as Republicans rally behind the charged process despite lingering concerns among some in the party that the investigation has yet to produce evidence of misconduct by the president. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House on Wednesday authorized the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, with every Republican rallying behind the politically charged process despite lingering concerns among some in the party that the investigation has yet to produce evidence of misconduct by the president.

The 221-212 party-line vote put the entire House Republican conference on record in support of an impeachment process that can lead to the ultimate penalty for a president: punishment for what the Constitution describes as “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which can lead to removal from office if convicted in a Senate trial.

Biden, in a rare statement about the impeachment effort, questioned the priorities of House Republicans in pursuing an inquiry against him and his family.

“Instead of doing anything to help make Americans’ lives better, they are focused on attacking me with lies,” the president said following the vote. “Instead of doing their job on the urgent work that needs to be done, they are choosing to waste time on this baseless political stunt that even Republicans in Congress admit is not supported by facts.”

Authorizing the monthslong inquiry ensures that the impeachment investigation extends well into 2024, when Biden will be running for reelection and seems likely to be squaring off against former President Donald Trump — who was twice impeached during his time in the White House. Trump has pushed his GOP allies in Congress to move swiftly on impeaching Biden, part of his broader calls for vengeance and retribution against his political enemies.

The decision to hold a vote came as Speaker Mike Johnson and his team faced growing pressure to show progress in what has become a nearly yearlong probe centered around the business dealings of Biden’s family members. While their investigation has raised ethical questions, no evidence has emerged that Biden acted corruptly or accepted bribes in his current role or previous office as vice president.

“We do not take this responsibility lightly and will not prejudge the investigation’s outcome,” Speaker Mike Johnson and his leadership team said in a joint statement after the vote. “But the evidentiary record is impossible to ignore.”

House Democrats stood in united opposition to the inquiry resolution Wednesday, calling it a farce perpetrated by those across the aisle to avenge the two impeachments against Trump.

“This whole thing is an extreme political stunt. It has no credibility, no legitimacy, and no integrity. It is a sideshow,” Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said during a floor debate.

Some House Republicans, particularly those hailing from politically divided districts, had been hesitant in recent weeks to take any vote on Biden’s impeachment, fearing a significant political cost. But GOP leaders have made the case in recent weeks that the resolution is only a step in the process, not a decision to impeach Biden. That message seems to have won over skeptics.

“As we have said numerous times before, voting in favor of an impeachment inquiry does not equal impeachment,” Rep. Tom Emmer, a member of the GOP leadership team, said at a news conference Tuesday.

Emmer said Republicans “will continue to follow the facts wherever they lead, and if they uncover evidence of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors, then and only then will the next steps towards impeachment proceedings be considered.”

Most of the Republicans reluctant to back the impeachment push have also been swayed by leadership’s recent argument that authorizing the inquiry will give them better legal standing as the White House has questioned the legal and constitutional basis for their requests for information.

A letter last month from a top White House attorney to Republican committee leaders portrayed the GOP investigation as overzealous and illegitimate because the chamber had not yet authorized a formal impeachment inquiry by a vote of the full House. Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president, also wrote that when Trump faced the prospect of impeachment by a Democratic-led House in 2019, Johnson had said at the time that any inquiry without a House vote would be a “sham.”

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., said this week that while there was no evidence to impeach the president, “that’s also not what the vote this week would be about.”

“We have had enough political impeachments in this country,” he said. “I don’t like the stonewalling the administration has done, but listen, if we don’t have the receipts, that should constrain what the House does long-term.”

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., who has long been opposed to moving forward with impeachment, said that the White House questioning the legitimacy of the inquiry without a formal vote helped gain his support. “I can defend an inquiry right now,” he told reporters this week. “Let’s see what they find out.”

House Democrats remained unified in their opposition to the impeachment process, saying it is a farce used by the GOP to take attention away from Trump and his legal woes.

“You don’t initiate an impeachment process unless there’s real evidence of impeachable offenses,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, who oversaw the two impeachments into Trump. “There is none here. None.”

Democrats and the White House have repeatedly defended the president and his administration’s cooperation with the investigation thus far, saying it has already made a massive trove of documents available.

Congressional investigators have obtained nearly 40,000 pages of subpoenaed bank records and dozens of hours of testimony from key witnesses, including several high-ranking Justice Department officials currently tasked with investigating the president’s son, Hunter Biden.

While Republicans say their inquiry is ultimately focused on the president himself, they have taken particular interest in Hunter Biden and his overseas business dealings, from which they accuse the president of personally benefiting. Republicans have also focused a large part of their investigation on whistleblower allegations of interference in the long-running Justice Department investigation into the younger Biden’s taxes and his gun use.

Hunter Biden is currently facing criminal charges in two states from the special counsel investigation. He’s charged with firearm counts in Delaware, alleging he broke laws against drug users having guns in 2018, a period when he has acknowledged struggling with addiction. Special counsel David Weiss filed additional charges last week, alleging he failed to pay about $1.4 million in taxes over a three-year period.

Democrats have conceded that while the president’s son is not perfect, he is a private citizen who is already being held accountable by the justice system.

“I mean, there’s a lot of evidence that Hunter Biden did a lot of improper things. He’s been indicted, he’ll stand trial,” Nadler said. “There’s no evidence whatsoever that the president did anything improper.”

Hunter Biden arrived for a rare public statement outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, saying he would not be appearing for his scheduled private deposition that morning. The president’s son defended himself against years of GOP attacks and said his father has had no financial involvement in his business affairs.

His attorney has offered for Biden to testify publicly, citing concerns about Republicans manipulating any private testimony.

“Republicans do not want an open process where Americans can see their tactics, expose their baseless inquiry, or hear what I have to say,” Biden said outside the Capitol. “What are they afraid of? I am here.”

GOP lawmakers said that since Hunter Biden did not appear, they will begin contempt of Congress proceedings against him. “He just got into more trouble today,” Rep. James Comer, the House Oversight Committee chairman, told reporters Wednesday.

___

Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst and Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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House approves impeachment inquiry into President Biden as Republicans rally behind investigation