WASHINGTON – The Republican Party’s capture of the House majority, though narrow, will soon transform the agenda in Washington, empowering GOP lawmakers to pursue conservative goals, vigorously challenge the policies of Democratic President Joe Biden — and plunge into Washington investigations with their new subpoena powers.
Come next year, Republicans have made clear, the Democratic-led Jan. 6 investigative committee will be no more. Instead, public probes into the president’s son, Hunter Biden, will begin. And GOP priorities including border security, parents’ rights and major IRS cuts will be on fast tracks to the House floor.
It’s a familiar whiplash, reminiscent of what took place after midterm contests in 2010 and 2018 that also ended one-party control of Washington — the first time to the Republicans' benefit, the second to the Democrats'. This time, however, the Republicans' weaker-than-expected showing in last week's election will complicate plans to aggressively take Biden on with actual legislation.
Speaker-in-waiting Kevin McCarthy will have few votes to spare as he steers the House agenda, little room to maneuver if members of his conference — particularly the hard-right Freedom Caucus — withhold their support. And few of the House GOP's goals, even if passed, are likely to have much of a chance in the closely divided but Democratic-led Senate.
But after two years on the receiving end of Jan. 6 and Donald Trump investigations, Republicans have made clear a top priority for their own majority is to investigate and then investigate some more — Democrats this time. They are preparing a wide range of probes of Democrats, from Hunter Biden's business dealings to the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, illegal immigration on the U.S.-Mexico border and billions of dollars in COVID spending they say was stolen or spent frivolously.
“It’s really about getting answers to questions that people all across this country have been asking for the last two years, and for various reasons, the administration refuses to be candid,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, who is about to become House majority leader, said an interview before the election.
Investigating the Biden family will be the first order of business, top Republicans indicated Thursday at a news conference just hours after clinching the House majority.
Rep. James Comer, incoming chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said there are “troubling questions” about the business dealings of Joe Biden's son Hunter and one of the president's brothers, James Biden, that require deeper investigation.
In fact, Republican lawmakers and their staff have been analyzing messages and financial transactions found on a laptop that belonged to Hunter Biden for the past year. They have discussed issuing congressional subpoenas to foreign entities that did business with him, and they recently brought on James Mandolfo, a former federal prosecutor, to assist with the investigation as general counsel for the Oversight Committee.
Hunter Biden’s taxes and foreign business work are already under federal investigation, with a grand jury in Delaware hearing testimony in recent months. While he never held a position on the presidential campaign or in the White House, his membership on the board of a Ukrainian energy company and his efforts to strike deals in China have long raised questions about whether he traded on his father’s public service, including reported references in his emails to the “big guy.”
Joe Biden has said he’s never spoken to his son about his foreign business. And there are no indications that the federal investigation involves the president in any way.
Rep. Jim Jordan, the Ohio Republican who will lead the Judiciary Committee, said he intends to look into what he contends is an overly close relationship between the White House and the Justice Department
“The only way you can hold people accountable and hopefully stop the behavior is to present it to the country,” Jordan said. Both Jordan and Comer emphasized that they do not plan to investigate Hunter Biden’s personal life.
The White House has been preparing for months for possible investigations into Biden’s family, though comment on anything related specifically to Hunter Biden would come from his lawyers, who did not immediately return a request on Thursday.
“President Biden is not going to let these political attacks distract him from focusing on Americans’ priorities, and we hope congressional Republicans will join us in tackling them instead of wasting time and resources on political revenge," Ian Sams, spokesperson for the White House counsel’s office, said in a statement Thursday.
Even as the investigations unfold, Biden will have to find a way to work with McCarthy, a California Republican from a different generation known more for his political acumen than his ability to navigate legislative disputes. McCarthy is certain to find himself under intense pressure from his right flank to take on the White House, making it difficult to compromise.
Even before the election, Republicans talked about exerting leverage over Biden to influence must-pass legislation to fund the government and authorize more federal debt. Some Republicans have suggested that a temporary government shutdown might be acceptable if it is necessary to force Democrats into accepting spending and other policy changes.
“If it means that you have to stop the government from running its day-to-day operations so that we can actually fix the systemic and fundamental issues that are facing the American people, then so be it,” said Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., on Fox Business. “That is what must be done.”
Scalise was careful on the topic, saying only that when the debt ceiling is reached, “you want to also work to address the problem that is causing us to max out the credit card.”
Republicans have been burned by brinkmanship before. They saw their standing in the polls plunge during a 16-day partial government shutdown in 2013, when they tried to use a spending bill to derail Obama’s health care law and demand more budget concessions.
Whit Ayres, a GOP political consultant, said Republicans should focus on inflation, crime and border security in the majority, but fears they will overreach once again.
“If past is prologue, the small House majority will govern from the right and we’ll get engaged in these investigations and cut off Ukraine aid and try to ban abortion and do all these other things that will repel a majority of the country and put Democrats back in charge,” Ayres said during a post-election forum at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Colleen Long contributed.
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