McCarthy gambles on Biden impeachment probe as shutdown looms

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy used a 4-minute Tuesday statement to plunge the House GOP toward an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. But he won't know until Wednesday if he's won over his toughest audience: his own members.

While announcing that he will move Republicans toward a formal impeachment probe, McCarthy also signaled that he'll sidestep the biggest challenge he had faced — locking down a majority of Republican votes for one. In a U-turn from his previous pledge to require a vote on the floor, McCarthy said Tuesday that he would be “directing” committees to “to open a formal impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden.v

A McCarthy spokesperson confirmed the GOP leader doesn’t plan to hold a vote to launch the impeachment inquiry: “Speaker announced an inquiry. The inquiry is now open.”

What was left unsaid: It's not clear that he has majority support for the very impeachment inquiry he told his members to open. That's thanks to multiple GOP members, largely centrists, who are skeptical that the party has uncovered enough evidence to move to an impeachment vote, given that no direct link has emerged so far between Joe Biden and the overseas business dealings of first son Hunter Biden.

Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, one of 18 GOP incumbents who represent districts that Joe Biden won in 2020, said before McCarthy's announcement that he doesn’t currently support an impeachment inquiry, but predicted using it to get more investigative powers could build support within the conference. His position underscores why senior Republicans privately see GOP centrists as likely to get on board — after all, most of them are McCarthy loyalists.

The speaker's tougher task this week, during private conference meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, is going to be satiating his conservatives' frustration.

It's the right flank where McCarthy faces the most anger and the greatest potential threat to his gavel, which any single Republican can force a vote to strip. And Tuesday’s impeachment inquiry announcement may not be enough to calm the nerves of conservatives who want to see the speaker take a much harder line on spending cuts ahead of a Sept. 30 shutdown deadline.

Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) said that McCarthy is “dangling this out as leverage, to somehow get people to do what he wants on — you know, [to] capitulate on spending. And that’s not going to work.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) quickly sent a warning shot that it wouldn’t be enough, calling McCarthy’s announcement a “baby step” and that the “rushed and somewhat rattled performance you just saw from the speaker isn’t real.”

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks during a media availability to announce an impeachment inquiry into President Biden at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 12, 2023.

And McCarthy could soon get more of an earful. One senior House Republican, who was granted anonymity to discuss touchy internal divisions, predicted that Wednesday's conference meeting would "be one of the worst for Kevin. It has absolutely nothing to do [with] impeachment or [an] impeachment inquiry. It has everything to do [with] spending and how he has handled the conference.”

McCarthy was already at risk in the event that any formal impeachment inquiry vote failed. Some of his most vocal defectors — led by Gaetz — were warning that his speakership would be at risk.

But McCarthy, speaking to reporters on Monday night before he preempted Gaetz, brushed off such threats.

“Matt’s Matt,” McCarthy said of the Florida Republican, adding that he was “not at all” concerned about his grip on the gavel.

Even so, Gaetz is not the only hardliner who’s been ramping up threats to try to strip McCarthy of his gavel over either slow progress on Biden impeachment or a failure to force through spending cuts beyond this spring's bipartisan debt limit deal.

Recent interviews with a half-dozen ultraconservatives have revealed McCarthy faces his greatest peril so far as he prepares to steer his party through both a funding showdown with Democrats and, now, an impeachment inquiry.

Instead, McCarthy has sold an impeachment inquiry vote as an investigative step that would give Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) and Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) more teeth to compel the administration and the Biden family to hand over documents. Comer has hinted that part of his larger investigative strategy will be subpoenas for Biden family members themselves or their bank records.

"These are allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption," McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday. "And they warrant further investigation by the House of Representatives."

While conservatives talk tough, plenty others in McCarthy’s conference are growing squeamish about what the twin crises mean for their tiny, fractured majority. Republicans worry that being perceived as rushing to impeach Biden could cost them the House next November, when they need to hold onto 18 seats in districts won by Biden with Trump likely at the top of their ticket.

House Republicans will hold a second huddle of the week on Thursday to talk about investigative strategy as they try to win over holdouts within their conference.

"An inquiry is not impeachment, I think that's the key thing,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said, urging her colleagues to get on board. "It's simply, 'Can't we look further? Do we give the House some power to investigate further?' So hopefully we'll see that."

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) speaks with reporters about House Republicans' impeachment inquiry into President Biden at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 12, 2023.

Highlighting the value of a Biden impeachment probe for former President Donald Trump's 2024 campaign, one senior House Republican was already looking ahead to a long inquiry that comes to a head sometime next year.

Party leaders are hoping "the timing of when this information comes out of Oversight and Judiciary is such that it gets right up to the convention next year. So that it's it's damaging to Joe Biden," this Republican said, speaking candidly on condition of anonymity.

"Then the debate will be, 'Which is more damning?' You know, President Trump has unclassified documents and RICO charges in Georgia. Or your president, your sitting president, can bribe Ukraine, Romania and China. That will be the debate. That will be the vote,” this Republican lawmaker added.

House GOP probes have so far revealed that Hunter Biden traded on his name during his business dealings. But the party has struggled to find a smoking gun that shows wrongdoing by Joe Biden, or that his actions as vice president or president were influenced by his family members.

The senior Republican, who supports an impeachment inquiry, predicted most members would be supportive of a formal investigation. But to go further and recommend booting Biden from office, this member added, “there has to be some nexus between Hunter and the president. And so far, to my understanding internally ... we don’t have that yet.”

Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.

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