(Bloomberg) — The Republican takeover of the US House will give the party control of powerful US House committee and subpoena power that will be harnessed to subject President Joe Biden, his cabinet and his family to aggressive scrutiny over the next two years.
Much of their policy agenda on the economy, immigration, crime and social issues mostly will be stifled by the gridlock of divided government with Democrats in charge of the Senate. But GOP lawmakers have been setting the groundwork for wide-ranging investigations and oversight that, at least in part, will serve as payback for probes of former President Donald Trump by Democrats.
House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who is poised to become House speaker in January, has outlined four top targets for investigation: US-Mexico border security, the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic and whether the Justice Department overstepped its bounds in dealing with threats against local school officials during a contentious national debate over books and curriculum.
For many of McCarthy’s colleagues the list of targets is much longer.
At the center of the investigations will be the House Judiciary Committee, expected to be led by Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, and the Oversight Committee led by James Comer of Kentucky.
Jordan’s staff released a 1,000-page compilation of letters demanding that documents be preserved for an investigation into allegations of political decision-making by Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation under Director Christopher Wray, specifically whether conservative politicians, activists and parents were targeted for harassment.
“We are focused on how political our Justice Department has become,” Jordan said at a news conference Thursday at which he and Comer renewed demands for information on business dealings of Biden’s family.
Also on their list of pursuits is fulfilling a longstanding priority for Trump: investigating Biden’s son Hunter Biden, as well as other associates of the president and family members. Comer has claimed that Hunter Biden’s business dealings “have compromised President Biden.” Hunter Biden has had business relationships in China and Ukraine, the latter of which figured prominently in Trump’s first impeachment and has denied any wrongdoing.
Judiciary Republicans also will be pursuing investigations of tech and social media companies that Republicans accuse of censoring conservative voices.
Trump loyalist Marjorie Taylor Greene already has introduced a resolution for Biden’s impeachment, while other far-right Republicans have proposed impeaching Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over his handling of the surge of immigrants at the US border. Trump was impeached twice by the Democratic-controlled House, though never convicted in the Senate.
“We will be investigating and holding people accountable,” Greene said in her speech at a Trump rally. “And after we expose the corruption and crimes committed, we can impeach Secretary Mayorkas, we can impeach Merrick Garland, and we can, and we will, impeach Joe Biden.”
McCarthy in recent interviews has said he doesn’t want to pursue impeachment “for political purposes.” A GOP aide said McCarthy has told fellow Republicans that impeachment proceedings would be merited if investigations lead there, but that committees won’t start with impeachment as a premise and then reverse engineer justification.
The White House has been girding for the intensified oversight since at least the spring. That includes adding staff to the White House counsel’s office, which would take the lead in responding to congressional inquiries. Biden’s aides believe an aggressive push on investigations or impeachments could backfire with Americans who want to see lawmakers address kitchen-table issues, according to a White House official.
Biden’s advisers have said the president is focused on his policy agenda and not on the prospect of inquiries.
“The president’s priority is going to be progress for the American people,” senior adviser Anita Dunn said at an Axios event last week.
Agencies involved in regulatory matters will get particular scrutiny.
“Exposing this administration’s failures and regulatory policy that have driven up the price of things for average Americans is front and center for our agenda,” Representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, who is in line to chair the Financial Services Committee, said last week on Bloomberg Television’s “Balance of Power With David Westin.”
McHenry said the Biden administration has been enacting policies by regulatory fiat that they have been unable to get through Congress, including a proposal climate obligations on companies through securities regulations.
Republicans on the Oversight and Judiciary panels also want to investigate the communications and record-keeping practices of the Securities and Exchange Commission and regulatory moves on guns by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The GOP has made the Internal Revenue Service a centerpiece of the midterm campaign. The IRS will come under increased scrutiny for leaks of taxpayer information but the main fight over the increased tax audits will be addressed on the legislative side. McCarthy has said that the House on day one of the new majority will pass a bill rescinding the $80 billion funding boost that has been estimated to pay for 87,000 employees over ten years.
Rule changes in the House in the last decade have increased the chamber’s oversight power. In 2015, the Republican majority gave more committee chairmen unilateral authority to subpoena witnesses and compel document production from then-President Barack Obama’s administration. Two years later they allowed committee staff to question private citizens and government officials to Capitol Hill under oath.
When Democrats took the majority in 2019 they used those same rule changes to conduct multiple investigations into Trump and his administration, including the two impeachment probes.
Democrats held on to control of the Senate, which will let them stifle GOP investigations of the Biden administration in that chamber.
And if a Republican House ultimately impeaches Biden administration officials or the president himself, the Senate majority would hold the power to set the terms of a trial, such as how long a trial will take and whether to allow witnesses to testify. Conviction would require a two-thirds vote in favor, a very high bar no matter which party is in charge.
–With assistance from Steven T. Dennis, Mark Niquette and Ari Natter.
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