WASHINGTON — The GOP-controlled House on Wednesday voted to authorize its impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden — a formal step Republicans believe will grant them the ability to better enforce their subpoenas in the courts.
The 221-212 vote was along party lines, with all Republicans voting yes and all Democrats voting no.
“The impeachment power resides solely with the House of Representatives. If a majority of the House now says we’re in an official impeachment inquiry as part of our constitutional duty to do oversight, that carries weight. That’s going to help us get these witnesses in,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, one of the leaders of the impeachment push, told reporters.
Earlier Wednesday, Republicans had hoped to depose the president’s son, Hunter Biden, arguing that the inquiry vote would give them better legal standing to hold him in contempt of Congress should he fail to show.
In a dramatic moment, the Biden son did appear — not behind closed doors as Republicans had demanded but at a news conference outside of the Capitol, where he again offered to testify in a public hearing.
“I’m here today to make sure that the House committee’s illegitimate investigations of my family did not proceed on distortions, manipulated evidence, and lies. And I’m here today to acknowledge that I’ve made mistakes in my life, and wasted opportunities and privileges I was afforded,” Hunter Biden said, reading a prepared statement. “For that, I’m responsible, for that I’m accountable and for that, I’m making amends.”
He rejected GOP claims that his father was involved in his business dealings — “it did not happen,” he declared — and slammed the investigation as completely politically motivated.
“In the depths of my addiction, I was extremely irresponsible with my finances. But to suggest that is grounds for an impeachment inquiry is beyond the absurd,” he said. “It’s shameless.”
House Oversight Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., has accused Hunter Biden and other Biden family members of engaging in “shady business practices” but has yet to demonstrate any concrete evidence of wrongdoing or influence peddling by the president himself. Republicans have investigated a $200,000 check the president’s brother James Biden made out to him. Documents reviewed by NBC News show that the president made a $200,000 loan to his brother in 2018, which James Biden repaid with that check, which was marked “loan repayment,” a few months later.
After the younger Biden failed to appear at his closed-door deposition, Jordan and Comer confirmed that Republicans would move to hold him in contempt.
“We will initiate that process,” Jordan said.
Republicans didn’t have much wiggle room with Wednesday’s inquiry vote. With the expulsion this month of former Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., is struggling with an even narrower majority and can afford to lose only three Republicans on any vote.
Earlier this year, a handful of moderate Republicans had voiced skepticism about whether there was enough evidence to kick off an impeachment investigation into the Biden family’s business dealings. So then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., under pressure from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and others on the right, decided to unilaterally launch the investigation in September without forcing Republicans in more purple districts to take the tough vote.
Three months later, not a single Republican voted against the inquiry resolution — a remarkable show of GOP unity given how divided the party had been on the issue earlier this year.
Even retiring Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., who a day earlier said he was “leaning no” on the inquiry vote and that the facts didn’t support moving forward, voted yes in the end.
Republicans have long insisted that then-Vice President Biden pushed to get Viktor Shokin fired because the Ukrainian prosecutor was investigating the Ukrainian gas company linked to Hunter Biden. But on Tuesday, Buck pointed out that the Obama administration, European officials, even GOP senators — all wanted Shokin gone at the time.
“All these groups were saying this prosecutor should be fired, and we’re saying, ‘Oh, wait a second. Hunter Biden got some money, therefore the only reason Joe Biden … asked for this guy to be fired is because of this money?’” Buck told reporters. “It just isn’t where the facts are going.”
“I don’t agree with my party or their party, frankly, when they are engaged in this impeachment game,” Buck added.
The GOP’s shift to formalize the inquiry is, in part, procedural. Last month, White House counsel Richard Stauber rejected GOP subpoenas and requests for transcribed interviews with staffers, Biden family members, including the president’s son Hunter, and their associates, arguing that the probe is “illegitimate” because the House hadn’t voted to authorize it.
That frustrated even the reluctant moderate Republicans, who said they would back the inquiry to help House investigators enforce their subpoenas and obtain the information they need to complete their probe.
“If he’s not providing the information because he says there’s no formal impeachment inquiry, that means we need a formal impeachment inquiry to get the information,” said moderate Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., referring to the president. “I think we have to go down that route. That doesn’t mean we have high crimes or misdemeanors — we may not ever. But let’s get the facts, and we’ll go from there.”
Like Bacon, freshman Rep. Nick LaLota of New York is another one of the 17 Republicans who represent districts that Biden won in 2020 and are facing a tough road to reelection. But he also backed the impeachment inquiry.
“We know the president’s family has made tens of millions of dollars overseas, from adversarial nations even, in areas in which they had no professional experience,” LaLota told reporters.
“We know subsequently those members gave the president tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars. The inquiry helps to connect, if any, make a connection between those two facts,” he said. “And my constituents desperately want to know and get some answers.”
Some conservative and center-right Republicans said they would not vote to impeach Biden now.
“It’s too early. The impeachment inquiry allows us to do our due diligence,” said Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla.
And Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., said the next steps are up in the air. “If nothing’s there then nothing’s there. If something’s there then something’s there,” he said.
The White House and its allies on the Hill have pushed back aggressively on the probe. In a statement, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the ranking member on the Oversight Committee, dismissed the inquiry as based on “distortions, concoctions and outright lies.”
“This is an impeachment inquiry where no one has been able to define what criminal or constitutional offense they’re looking for,” Raskin said later in the Capitol. “This is more like a what-is-it, not a whodunnit.”
In a lengthy statement after the vote, Biden scolded Republicans for focusing on impeachment rather than passing aid for Ukraine and Israel, addressing border security and funding the government.
“Instead of doing anything to help make Americans’ lives better, they are focused on attacking me with lies,” the president said. “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.”
Addressing reporters Tuesday, Johnson wouldn’t engage on whether there could be a situation in which the House doesn’t eventually pursue articles of impeachment.
“We have no choice but to fulfill our constitutional responsibility; we have to take the next step. We’re not making a political decision — it’s not. It’s a legal decision,” Johnson said, flanked by members of his leadership team.
“We’re not going to prejudge the outcome of this,” he said. “We can’t, because, again, it’s not a political calculation. We’re following the law.”