Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) decided to launch a formal impeachment inquiry into President Biden on Tuesday – without a vote in the House.
It is perfectly legal and constitutional for McCarthy to open an investigation without a vote. But it’s a significant turnaround for the GOP chairman, who said just 11 days ago that he would not open a formal investigation without a floor vote.
It also leaves him open to cries of hypocrisy: McCarthy criticized former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for launching an impeachment inquiry into former President Trump in the same manner in 2019. Pelosi announced an investigation on September 24, but the House did not vote on the issue until October 31.
Asked Tuesday if he was a hypocrite, McCarthy told Pelosi: “I’m not, because she changed the precedent.”
“I warned her not to do it this way in the process. And that’s what she did, that’s what we did,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy’s strategy has advantages.
Moving forward with an investigation without a vote allows quick action on a priority for conservatives who have pressured the House speaker. McCarthy’s decision also protects moderates — particularly those representing districts won by President Biden in 2020 — from having to make a tough vote.
But nothing McCarthy said Tuesday prevents the House from moving forward on an impeachment inquiry vote in the future, which is still a possibility, GOP aides told The Hill.
“The precedent allows the speaker to launch an impeachment inquiry. “Speaker McCarthy’s announcement this morning constitutes the formal opening of an impeachment inquiry, but certainly does not preclude a vote from taking place in the future,” said a senior House official. .
“This phase of an impeachment inquiry provides the House with an opportunity to formally define the scope of its investigation, notify the accused, and provide time for continued conversations with the Members,” the House said. ‘assistant.
The impeachment inquiry against Biden focuses on his family’s overseas business dealings and whether a tax crimes investigation into his son, Hunter Biden, was unduly slow.
Republicans have so far failed to prove that Biden personally benefited financially or made policy decisions based on his family’s business dealings, but have highlighted numerous conflict of interest issues and accused the president of being dishonest as to how he spoke to his son about his affairs. .
Just a week and a half before unilaterally launching an investigation, McCarthy told Breitbart News that if the House moved forward with an impeachment inquiry, “it would be done by a vote in the House of the people and not by a declaration of a single person. »
The remarks came after a CNN report indicated that Republicans were discussing the possibility of opening an investigation without a vote from the full House.
A reporter told McCarthy he was “confused” given the President’s statement 11 days before Breitbart. McCarthy responded: “Sorry, you’re confused. Were you confused when Nancy Pelosi did it?
White House Oversight and Investigations spokesman Ian Sams accused McCarthy of flip-flopping on the issue.
“House Republicans have been investigating the president for 9 months, and they have found no evidence of wrongdoing. His own GOP members have said so. He has promised to hold a vote to open impeachment, now he has turned around because he has no support. Extreme politics at its worst,” Sams wrote on X on Tuesday.
McCarthy fended off questions about whether the move was to avoid losing a battle to trigger impeachment in the House, saying he “just about” had the votes to push through an impeachment inquiry.
A number of moderates, however, expressed hesitation to launch an investigation, and McCarthy could only afford to lose a handful of Republican votes in the House’s slim Republican majority.
Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who represents a district won by Biden in 2020, said he recommended that the House not launch an impeachment inquiry.
“I think there is corruption there, but to do an investigation you have to have some sort of direct evidence regarding the president. I think we’re close, so I’m not opposed to never doing it, but I just think we should set the bar high,” he added.
He also said he wished McCarthy had held a vote on the issue.
“I would have recommended doing the vote,” Bacon added. “I just think it’s true. But, you know, let’s be frank, Pelosi started this, she set a new…precedent.
“I don’t like to do it just because Pelosi did it, we did it,” Bacon added at another point. “Pelosi set the bar low.”
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) also said he didn’t think there was enough evidence to move forward on impeachment, but that it “really doesn’t matter” if he supports or not an investigation “because the three committees will continue to do their work as they have done in the past.”
“I still want to see the evidence. But for me, the impeachment inquiry was a distraction from the spending and appropriations processes,” Buck said. “I think now we’re focusing on what we should be focusing on, the appropriations process.”
Dave Rapallo, a law professor at Georgetown University who worked on the House staff handling Trump’s first impeachment, said that even if the full House were to vote on an article of impeachment for refer the matter to the Senate, there were no guidelines on how the investigation would be conducted. must come from.
“There is no provision in the Constitution that explains how to initiate impeachment proceedings. In the past, the House has passed a resolution to initiate impeachment proceedings, but that is not a requirement. And that, of course, is what Speaker Pelosi did in the first impeachment: there was no resolution,” he said.
“Republicans were apoplectic about it. »
At the time, McCarthy wrote a letter to Pelosi asking her to suspend the investigation.
“Unfortunately, you have given no clear guidance on how your impeachment inquiry will proceed – including whether key historical precedents or basic standards of due process will be respected,” he wrote in 2019.
And on Twitter, he declared it a fact that “Speaker Pelosi cannot unilaterally decide on impeachment.” This requires a full vote of the House of Representatives.
Former President Trump, through then-White House adviser Pat Cipollone, argued that he should not have to meet the demands of the investigation because Democrats never brought the case before the Plenary Chamber.
“Your investigation is constitutionally invalid and a violation of due process. In our nation’s history, the House of Representatives has never attempted to launch an impeachment inquiry against the president without a majority of the House taking political responsibility for the decision by voting to authorize a constitutional measure so dramatic,” Cipollone wrote.
And then-House Judiciary member Doug Collins (R-Ga.) warned that the House would be in a “perpetual state of impeachment” without a vote.
“Without explicit authorization from the full House, the court has no determinative measure of when formal impeachment proceedings have begun and when the committee is simply exercising its normal oversight powers,” Collins wrote in a brief of amicus encouraging a judge to block access to Congress. to documents collected by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Rapallo said none of those arguments carry any legal weight, as a vote is not required under the Constitution or House rules.
“Technically, a resolution is not necessary for them to use these powers. As for why he didn’t get the votes that he said he got, you know, it could very well be that he didn’t get the votes,” Rapallo said.
“‘I’m less concerned about the lack of a vote for the impeachment inquiry than I am about the absence of any evidence.’
Republicans say one goal of opening an impeachment inquiry is to add legal weight to their requests for information from the Biden administration.
“I think the courts are much more willing to look at the question as, ‘Oh, the House is now in an impeachment inquiry, in a different mode, focused on a constitutional duty exclusive to the House of Representatives,'” said the judicial power of the House. said committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). “I think the courts would say, okay, give them the information.”
Asked if the same legal weight exists through the President’s simple word rather than a vote of the full House, Jordan replied: “I think there is that potential. »
“And I don’t think the speaker said he was opposed to a vote. We might have done it at some point,” Jordan said.
Some Republicans would have preferred a vote, but they do not object to McCarthy’s unilateral statement.
“I think there should be a vote, but I’m ready to go for it,” said Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee.
Caroline Vakil contributed.