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Happy Wednesday morning.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s unilateral declaration that the House would open an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden changes everything. From the fight over government funding, to Biden’s reelection, to the battle for control of the House next year, the entire political dynamic in Washington has been reset. How far this extends — and what it all means for 2024 — is still unclear.
We’re going to dig into a whole set of dynamics this morning — McCarthy’s internal politics, the Senate’s view on impeachment and more.
Let’s start with this: The House Oversight Committee and its chair, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), are leading this inquiry, at least initially. Rep. Jim Jordan’s (R-Ohio) House Judiciary Committee and Rep. Jason Smith’s (R-Mo.) Ways and Means Committee are playing supporting roles.
If House Republicans decide to impeach Biden, Jordan will oversee the impeachment effort. Will there be any turf wars? Undoubtedly. But members and staff from all three panels have been meeting together for several months now and things have remained relatively calm.
Comer said Oversight would focus on Biden’s alleged wrongdoing, while Judiciary and Ways and Means will train their focus on the alleged “cover-up.” And the Kentucky Republican proactively dismissed any talk of friction between him and Jordan.
“Of course, Jim’s on Oversight,” Comer noted. “We did everything together. There’s never been a problem. We get along.”
Here’s Jordan: “What I’ll focus on is making sure our colleagues are fully abreast of the facts,” Jordan told reporters on Tuesday, running through a litany of allegations — some true, others debunked — that Biden engaged in official acts benefitting his family while profiting personally from his son and brother’s business dealings.
All these issues will be discussed at a special House GOP meeting Thursday on impeachment.
We expect that this week, the committees will send letters requesting Biden family members’ bank records and other documents in a bid to prove the president profited off their foreign business dealings.
Oversight Committee spokesperson Jessica Collins told us in a statement that the panel’s next steps will be to “pursue Hunter and James Biden’s personal and business bank records” and interview more members of the Biden family. Note: Comer requested some records from Hunter and James Biden — Joe Biden’s brother — back in February.
How the committees will work: Ways and Means has a unique role here. According to statute, they are the only House entity that is able to obtain confidential tax information from the IRS.
In the next few weeks, we expect Ways and Means to vote to release additional tax info that they have obtained to, in their view, corroborate what the whistleblowers told the committee about the investigation into Hunter Biden — an investigation they say was mishandled.
Strategy questions: There are a number of strategy questions that came up in our reporting that we want to raise.
No. 1: How long will this impeachment inquiry last? Document fights can get messy and end up in court. But the House GOP won’t want this to drag on forever.
No. 2: So far, Ways and Means, Judiciary and Oversight have sought testimony from whistleblowers and peripheral players. Will Republicans move onto more crucial figures, including David Weiss and Lesley Wolf, federal prosecutors in the Hunter Biden case? How about Hunter Biden himself? And how will the Justice Department react? Or Hunter Biden’s defense team?
Attorney General Merrick Garland is slated to testify before the Judiciary Committee next week as part of the normal oversight process. And Abbe Lowell, Hunter Biden’s lead defense attorney, bashed McCarthy in a statement on Tuesday but declined to comment on a possible subpoena.
Comer, for his part, wouldn’t bite when we asked him what the timeline was for a potential impeachment vote, stressing that this step was just opening an inquiry.
“My job’s to follow the money. And now with this impeachment inquiry, we have the tools necessary to hopefully get that information,” Comer said.
Team McCarthy’s involvement: Driving the train for the speaker’s team will be Machalagh Carr, McCarthy’s newly minted chief of staff, and Kim Hamm, the speaker’s general counsel. Carr has a wealth of experience on the committee side of the Capitol, having worked on both Ways and Means and Oversight panels. She also worked to streamline the investigation process as part of McCarthy’s team.
As the world turns … House Republicans are still struggling mightily to avert a government shutdown. The $886 billion Defense spending bill is on the verge of collapse. And conservatives in the conference have indicated they may try to remove McCarthy from the speakership if he passes a short-term CR.
The House Rules Committee passed a rule for the Defense bill late Tuesday night that authorizes votes on up to 184 amendments.
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) voted against the rule in committee, and other conservatives have threatened to vote against it on the floor. Republican leaders can only lose four votes.
McCarthy will talk about this and more this morning at a closed House GOP conference meeting.
— Jake Sherman, John Bresnahan and Max Cohen
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McCarthy’s impeachment play lays bare the weakness in his majority
Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s decision to greenlight an impeachment inquiry without a House vote neatly encapsulates the challenges Republicans have living with their slim majority.
McCarthy OK’d the inquiry after endless haranguing from the right, with hardline conservatives accusing the speaker of dragging his feet on holding President Joe Biden “accountable.” Without their backing — of course — McCarthy doesn’t have the speakership or the House majority. Some conservatives have openly toyed with throwing McCarthy out of the speakership.
But at the same time, McCarthy’s decision to bypass a recorded tally — something he criticized then Speaker Nancy Pelosi for in 2019 and said last week he’d surely do — was designed to protect his front-line Republicans from having to publicly cast a tricky vote that could come back to bite them in 2024.
McCarthy is pulled in one direction by the right of his conference, and another by the center. He’s often left trying to find a sweet spot in between the two.
The reality for the 58-year-old, nine-term McCarthy is that once he opens an impeachment inquiry, it’s almost guaranteed that House Republicans will impeach Biden. Remember, a sizable number of Republicans were ready to impeach before the inquiry even began. And once the House has begun the process, not impeaching Biden will look like a validation of the president to many rank-and-file lawmakers. That may be too much for McCarthy to control.
The moderates: There are 18 Republicans who represent districts that Biden won in 2020. Interestingly enough, the majority of those we spoke to on Tuesday said they supported the inquiry. These moderates said the fact-finding mission was an appropriate step in investigating Biden.
“I think that there’s been enough preliminary work here to absolutely justify going forward with an inquiry,” said Rep. John Duarte (R-Calif.), who represents a district Biden won by 11 points. “So I think it’s a great middle step. Let’s just get all the facts out and then decide what goes forward from there.”
Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.), one of Democrats’ top targets in 2024, seems comfortable, as well. Here’s what Molinaro told us: “I’m satisfied that this is the appropriate next step in ensuring that we provide the appropriate oversight and checks and balances.”
The view from the right: Conversely, many of the hardliners we spoke to weren’t impressed. There was rampant speculation that the timing of McCarthy’s announcement was intended to distract from the separate issue of the looming FY2024 spending battle.
Conservatives bristled at the idea that McCarthy’s support for impeachment inquiry will make them more likely to support a short-term funding bill designed to avoid a government shutdown. This is despite the fact that several of them spent recess pushing for an impeachment inquiry in exchange for their support on the spending front.
“I just find it very convenient that it comes out now, in the very week that we returned to Washington, D.C., and we’re supposed to be focusing all of our attention on the appropriation bills,” Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) said.
“The timing is interesting,” Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.) said. “That tells me a lot.”
— Jake Sherman, Max Cohen, Mica Soellner and Andrew Desiderio
Impeachment push underscores House-Senate divide
Senate Republicans are largely dismissive of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s decision to launch an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, panning it as a futile effort and a questionable use of time when so many other year-end priorities are hanging in the balance.
Most members of Senate GOP leadership we spoke with were cool to the idea. Some said they didn’t see evidence for such an inquiry and others claimed it would simply distract from the urgent work Congress needs to do before the end of the year.
Their responses underscore the simmering tensions between the House and the Senate, which are already at loggerheads on a number of key issues like short-term government funding, FY2024 appropriations and the annual defense policy bill.
There are a few camps of Senate Republicans when it comes to impeachment.
Skepticism: Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a member of GOP leadership, said she fears that impeachment is being used as an “everyday instrument.” Capito added: “I don’t see what the evidence is. I don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Senate Minority Whip John Thune told us that while an impeachment inquiry could help House Republicans get access to certain information, a better way to change presidents is through elections.
“The Democrats weaponized impeachment, and I just hate to see where this becomes the method of, every time there’s a change in administrations, of trying to throw somebody out of office,” Thune said. “I think you ought to win elections.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he doesn’t have “advice” for McCarthy, adding that the Senate was busy with FY2024 funding. “I don’t think Speaker McCarthy needs any advice from the Senate on how to run the House,” he added.
This is McConnell’s shorthand way of saying he has no interest in this, emphasizing the Senate’s appropriations work in a way that exposes the contrast between the two chambers’ priorities.
Traffic jam: Thune also made the point that if the Senate needs to hold an impeachment trial before the end of the year, that would significantly strain the upper chamber’s already-packed to-do list.
“I don’t think it would be advantageous, obviously, if this thing went further with all the other things we have to do, to go through another trial,” Thune said.
McConnell was more reserved than he’s been on the issue in the past, but his comments on Tuesday highlighted the opposite universes in which the House and Senate are operating right now.
“We’ve got our hands full here trying to get through the appropriations process,” McConnell said, adding that the House is dealing with “a totally different set of challenges.” Translation: Everything other than funding the government and helping Ukraine is simply a distraction.
Support: To be sure, there are GOP senators who back McCarthy’s decision. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 Republican, told us that “clearly there is mounting evidence of corruption, and the House is heading into the right direction.”
That sentiment trickles down to the rank-and-file, too. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) called an inquiry “an appropriate next step” because “I’ve seen presidents impeached for less than we already know about this one.”
— Andrew Desiderio
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WASHINGTON X THE FUTURE
Schumer’s AI forum draws big names — and some criticism
The Senate will hold a first-of-its-kind bipartisan forum on artificial intelligence today as part of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s long-running push for congressional action on the issue.
The forum will feature experts from both inside and outside the ballooning industry — billionaire tech CEOs from Tesla’s Elon Musk to Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg and Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai, along with union and civil rights leaders.
But the format and process are already under heavy scrutiny from members of both parties. The forum will be closed to the press and to the public, and senators won’t be able to directly question the participants. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of Schumer’s leadership team, said it was “just plain wrong” because the format allows the industry itself to influence how it’s being regulated.
To be sure, the Senate has already held several hearings on various legislative approaches to AI. So senators have had the ability to question the power players in a public setting. And Schumer’s approach has bipartisan backing; Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) are co-hosting the forum.
“In terms of the people who are going to be critical of the companies, it’s not just some folks from the outside,” Schumer told reporters Tuesday. “It’s going to be some of the best experts from the inside who have done that as well.”
This has been a big priority for Schumer, who has tasked various committees with putting together a bipartisan legislative package that could be finalized in the next year or so. Schumer said the goal is to write legislation that “enhances the benefits and diminishes the liabilities of AI.”
Already, some Republicans are warning of an intrusive and premature approach by the federal government on the issue. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), for example, said some in Congress are embracing “doomsday AI scenarios as justification for expanded federal regulation.”
“To me, the biggest existential risk we face is ourselves,” Cruz added. “At this point, Congress understands so little about AI that it will do more harm than good.”
But proponents of Schumer’s plans argue that the forum is intended specifically to educate lawmakers about AI and provide a foundation for future action.
“Even the basic economics around AI are radically different today than nine or 10 months ago,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) told us.
Warner said Congress should look to establish guardrails to ensure public confidence in elections and in the markets, especially with the increasing prevalence of deepfakes. Warner, of course, has been at the center of efforts to limit the ability of malicious actors to use social media platforms to improperly influence elections.
— Andrew Desiderio
AND THERE’S MORE…
In a sign of the burgeoning relationship between the center left New Democrat Coalition and the center right Republican Governance Group, the Bipartisan Policy Center is hosting the two organizations for a member happy hour this afternoon.
And a group of New Dems, led by Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), is also out with a new letter calling on Speaker Kevin McCarthy to bring the Senate-passed appropriations bills to the House floor to avoid a shutdown. This, of course, won’t happen. But it’s instructive to see how Democrats are messaging as Congress hurtles toward a government shutdown in under three weeks.
— Max Cohen
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8:30 a.m.: August consumer price index date released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
10 a.m.: President Joe Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing. … House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) will speak to reporters after the GOP conference meeting. … The Senate begins its AI forum.
10:45 a.m.: House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar and Vice Chair Ted Lieu will speak to reporters after their closed-party meeting.
1 p.m.: Karine Jean-Pierre, NSC’s John Kirby and CEA Chair Jared Bernstein will brief.
2:30 p.m.: Biden will hold a meeting of his “Cancer Cabinet.”
6:15 p.m.: Biden will leave for McLean, Va., where he will attend a fundraiser. He will return to the White House at 8:30 p.m.
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“Is Biden Too Old to Run Again? We Asked People Born on His Exact Birthday,” by Andrew Restuccia
Editorial photos provided by Getty Images.
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