House GOP looks beyond impeachment for new Biden targets

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Their impeachment inquiry of President Joe Biden is fizzling. And now, House Republicans are setting their sights on a wide range of new oversight targets, hoping that one might help them trip up the president in the middle of an election year.

The search for a fresh line of attack has had a scattershot feel to it, including what Republicans say is the administration’s failure to aggressively combat the Chinese Communist Party; the origins of Covid-19; the approach to liquified natural gas exports and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve; and whether the administration sidestepped the Senate confirmation process in naming John Podesta the new climate envoy.

All told, House Republican Committee chairs sent nearly 50 oversight requests from several different committees to a variety of agencies, from the Justice to the Energy department, in the last month, according to a person familiar with the requests who was granted anonymity to discuss them.

The barrage makes clear that House Republicans remain eager to inflict a modicum of pain on the White House as the president and his team gear up for the Democratic National Convention and, after that, the election. They just are just settling on the right topic — or topics — first.

“Since January 2023, we’ve launched investigations into President Biden’s border crisis, energy crisis, federal pandemic spending, federal agency telework policies, abuse of power at the FTC, the Bidens’ corrupt influence peddling schemes, the federal government’s efforts to combat CCP influence, and more,” House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) said in a statement to POLITICO. He promised the ongoing investigations “will culminate in reports with our findings and recommended solutions to prevent government waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.”

Republicans don’t view the new oversight inquiries as a replacement for impeachment, according to a GOP aide who spoke about them on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. But there is significant political pressure on the party to produce results after months of promising it would uncover evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors involving Biden.

In particular, the focus on China, Republicans believe, will allow them to turn the topic to one of former President Donald Trump’s strengths. The House Oversight Committee, in a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the administration’s “open-border policy facilitates the smuggling of fentanyl into the U.S., causing drug overdose deaths throughout the country.” The committee has issued a slew of letters to various government agencies asking them to detail the work they’ve done to protect Americans from the influence of the CCP. Comer explicitly tied the matter to the president.

"You look at the Biden administration, there’s no question in my mind that they’ve had a soft-on-China policy," the lawmaker told the conservative “Just the News” podcast, arguing that the Biden administration has made decisions that “put China first and America last.”

So far, House efforts on China have been largely policy-focused. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), chair of the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, established just over a year ago, recently announced that he would soon be leaving office.

The flurry of new oversight requests can also can be read as an admission that House GOP leaders whiffed on their bigger target. The monthslong impeachment inquiry into Biden appears to be wrapping up without a blockbuster vote. While the Oversight Committee says that such a finale is “100% still on the table,” Comer has hinted otherwise.

In recent weeks, he has downplayed the significance of an impeachment vote, arguing that there is little meaning behind one because a Democratic-controlled Senate wouldn’t take the articles seriously. He also issued a fundraising email saying he was looking at a criminal referral that would serve as a symbolic move, as well as fodder for the Justice Department to take up if Trump is reelected this fall.

“I want to hold the Biden family accountable. I believe the best way to hold the Biden family accountable is through criminal referrals. We’ve proven many crimes have been committed,” he said on Fox News’ “Sunday Night with Trey Gowdy,” hosted by the former House Republican. “If the Merrick Garland Department of Justice will not hold this family accountable, then maybe if Trump is president, a Trey Gowdy Department of Justice can hold this family accountable.”

And while the Oversight Committee formally invited the president to testify before Congress, White House aides have been highly dismissive of the request, responding with, among other things, a “LOL” and a gif swiped from the movie “Love Actually.”

Congressional oversight can be a potent political cudgel in an election year. In 2016, House Republicans used it to investigate then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s role in the 2012 attack on U.S. government buildings in Benghazi, Libya, an effort former Speaker Kevin McCarthy said was put together for political reasons.

House Republicans launched their Biden impeachment inquiry in an effort to — in the words of McCarthy — “paint a picture of corruption" by the president and his family. But that picture became muddied after the credibility of a highly-touted FBI informant was called into question, including accusations from the Justice Department that the person was in touch with a Russian agent.

And so, House Republicans have homed in on other targets. The House is planning to send the Senate the articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas soon, although there is no chance of Senate conviction.

The Oversight and House Judiciary committees are turning up the heat on Garland, threatening to hold the attorney general in contempt if he doesn’t respond to a subpoena to turn over the audio recording of former Special Counsel Robert Hur’s interview of Biden and related documents by early April.

Other topics high on the House GOP oversight list are the administration’s energy policies — including the use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and the pause on liquified natural gas exports — and the origins of Covid-19.

While an impeachment vote against the president is unlikely, there are signs Republicans want to drag the inquiry out — and that the president’s son, Hunter, is still a key target of their inquiries. Judiciary Republicans have gone to court to try to force testimony from two career DOJ tax attorneys about their work on Hunter Biden’s case.

Oversight also asked Hunter Biden to testify publicly about whether his father was involved in his business dealings. Hunter declined.