Bullish on a House takeover, GOP's investigative plans pick up steam
By Melanie Zanona, Manu Raju and Annie Grayer, CNNUpdated: Fri, 04 Nov 2022 11:24:19 GMTSource: CNNHouse Republicans are in active discussions to immediately hit the ground running if they take powerBy Melanie Zanona, Manu Raju and Annie Grayer, CNN
Updated: Fri, 04 Nov 2022 11:24:19 GMT
House Republicans are in active discussions to immediately hit the ground running if they take power on Tuesday and target what has become one of their top priorities: Investigating President Joe Biden's son.
On November 9 -- the day after the midterm elections -- Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, who is likely in line to chair the House Oversight Committee, told CNN he is going to resend a letter to the Treasury Department demanding the agency fork over any suspicious bank activity reports linked to Hunter Biden. A previous request was rebuffed, but Comer said the department may be more inclined to cooperate when it becomes clear Republicans are going to be in charge of the House, meaning the GOP will have newfound subpoena power.
And the following week, Comer and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, are planning to hold a joint press conference laying out what they've already uncovered about Hunter Biden, according to sources familiar with the matter. On Friday, Jordan plans to release more than 1,000 pages of his committee's investigative roadmap alleging political interference by the FBI and Justice Department based in part on whistleblower allegations, while rehashing some previous claims and requests that Republicans have made, people familiar with the plan told CNN.
Sources say Comer and Jordan next week plan to reveal the contents of at least one suspicious bank report they obtained, though such reports are not conclusive and do not necessarily indicate wrongdoing, as well as a reported text message exchange between Hunter Biden and a financial adviser. Millions of so-called suspicious activity reports are filed every year but very few lead to an law enforcement inquiry.
"We're going to lay out what we have thus far on Hunter Biden, and the crimes we believe he has committed," Comer told CNN. "And then we're going to be very clear and say what we are investigating, and who we're gonna ask to meet with us for transcribed interviews. And we're going to show different areas that we're looking into."
The younger Biden, who is facing a federal investigation into potential tax violations and allegedly making a false statement over a gun purchase, has not been charged with any crime. But Republicans are planning to focus in large part on Biden's overseas business dealings as they try to link him to his father, though it remains to be seen what if any evidence they have uncovered.
Hunter Biden has also denied wrongdoing in his business activities.
The fact that the Hunter Biden probe will be one the GOP's first order of business following their anticipated takeover of the House next week underscores just how much investigations, hearings and subpoenas will dominate in a Republican majority. Most bills will be primarily messaging endeavors, unlikely to overcome the president's veto or the Senate's 60-vote threshold, though they would have to pass legislation to fund the government and raise the national borrowing limit to raise a debt default -- an endeavor that is already alarming Democrats. The White House declined to comment on this story.
Biden has also denied wrongdoing in his business activities.
Democrats see the probes as nothing more than politically-motivated acts of revenge designed to damage Biden ahead of 2024 while throwing red meat to their base.
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, told CNN it's "pretty apocalyptic about what the House will look like" in a GOP majority.
"I think we're headed for debt default, shutdown, constant impeachments, I think it's a just absolute nightmare over there if Republicans win," Murphy said.
One senior GOP lawmaker told CNN the trick for Republicans will be to prioritize and space out their myriad investigations, warning that too many probes and hearings occurring at the same time could muddle their overall oversight efforts. Plus, Republicans are signaling they want to make sure they slowly build their case against the Biden family, drawing out their investigations well into 2023 to keep their findings in the headlines.
Yet GOP leaders will immediately feel pressure from their right flank to go further -- even move to impeach Biden or the homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, areas that could divide their conference.
"Let's not rush to judgment, let's build your case," said Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, when asked about pursuing impeachment. "You got to build your case first before you do something of that magnitude -- otherwise it's not credible."
The wide range of possible probes -- including over the US-Mexico border, the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, and IRS actions -- are just a taste of what Republicans have begun to plot before the votes are even tallied on Tuesday.
They are also eyeing major institutional changes, including ditching the House's remote voting system and the metal detectors placed outside the chamber after January 6, 2021; potentially imposing term limits on Democratic committee leaders; and kicking some Democrats off their committees while restoring controversial GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar to theirs.
Even as some plans are already being fleshed out, sources say GOP leadership will establish working groups after the midterms to help make key decisions about their new majority in an attempt to give members buy-in -- something that has become a hallmark of the leadership style of House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is currently running unopposed for the speaker's job.
Republicans eye top targets
GOP lawmakers have been laying the groundwork for their investigative priorities for months, and committee leaders plan to sketch out those plans in greater detail in the immediate weeks following the midterms.
Republicans have already sent over 500 preservation letter requests to the Biden administration, while leadership has been hosting briefings and classes for GOP staffers on how to best use the oversight tools that could be at their disposal.
The White House, too, has been staffing up and preparing for an onslaught of probes and potential impeachment proceedings into the administration.
Comer told CNN Republicans would like to haul Hunter Biden in front of the Oversight committee and conduct interviews and depositions with some of his business associates and banks. That investigation will be primarily housed under the Oversight panel, but the Judiciary Committee will also play a role looking into how the Department of Justice has dealt with Hunter Biden.
Another top investigative target is Mayorkas, with some on the right already calling to impeach Mayorkas over problems at the southern border.
GOP leaders have tried to publicly tamp down impeachment talk, though they acknowledge it will be an area ripe for investigation, with House GOP Whip Steve Scalise quipping that Mayorkas "might have a reserved parking spot (at the Capitol) he's gonna be up here so much."
Republicans have also signaled they want to investigate the FBI search on Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence, with Jordan sending a letter this week requesting that the FBI and DOJ reserve a wide swath of documents related to the search, among other. Jordan's 1,000-page report on Friday is expected to accuse the Justice Department of making politically motivated decisions over Hunter Biden, school boards, domestic spying and probing domestic violent extremism — allegations sure to prompt sharp Democratic pushback. Axios first reported the contents of Jordan's roadmap.
Other items that key House GOP members have said they plan to probe include the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal, which will be conducted through the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Dr. Anthony Fauci and the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, which will come out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and how the administration has dealt with parents and school boards, which will go through the House Education and Labor Committee.
"These letters demand more accountability and transparency from agencies that are becoming far too comfortable grabbing power that doesn't belong to them," said Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, who said she has sent over 100 letters to the administration. "These agencies can expect even more rigorous oversight from me in the 118th Congress."
Meanwhile, House Energy and Commerce ranking Republican member, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington hired a new chief counsel of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee last month as the committee gears up to start new investigations, including probes into Big Tech.
"We have a full agenda to hold President Biden and his administration officials accountable for how they've shut down American energy, broken trust at America's public health agencies, made the fentanyl crisis worse, and increased our dependence on supply chains controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, and much more," McMorris Rodgers said of hiring Sean Brebbia, Republicans' new chief counsel on that subcommittee.
Meanwhile, on Ukraine, a spokesperson for McCaul, who is likely in line to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says the lawmaker wants clarifications from the Biden Administration about the kinds of weapons that are and are not going to Ukraine, emphasizing this oversight would not be an attempt to limit funding to Ukraine.
Most of these congressional investigations will be housed inside the relevant standing committees, but senior GOP sources say Republicans will create at least one select committee to tackle issues related to China -- a longtime priority for McCarthy.
Republicans trying to build legislative agenda
On the legislative front, McCarthy has vowed that the first bill Republicans will put on the floor is one to prevent the hiring of 87,000 new IRS agents after the Democrats' climate and health care bill became law earlier this summer.
In September, McCarthy and House Republicans rolled out a legislative agenda dubbed the "Commitment to America" that will serve as their roadmap for the potential majority. It touches on everything from energy to Big Tech, but many of the policy proposals are vague and don't highlight specific legislative proposals.
Meanwhile, the GOP's right flank is preparing to flex its muscles in any future funding fights, from must-pass spending bills to raising the debt ceiling -- areas where Republicans will have leverage and will need to work with Biden and the Senate.
Before they get to legislation, though, Republicans will have to elect their leadership team and committee chairs. GOP leaders are eyeing a quick timeline for that process, scheduling internal leadership elections and a vote on their rules package for one week after the midterms.
McCarthy has previously vowed to kick Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell off the House Intelligence Committee and boot Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from the House Foreign Affairs Committee -- retribution for Democrats removing Gosar and Greene from their committees for incendiary remarks last year.
And McCarthy has vowed to reinstate Gosar and Greene to committees, potentially even "better" ones," if they're in charge. Greene told CNN she wants a coveted seat on the House Oversight Committee and said McCarthy is supportive of the idea.
There's also been talk of creating a new leadership position, such as chair of the Elected Leadership Committee, sources tell CNN, though nothing has been decided and those sources say they're waiting to see how things shake out after the midterms. McCarthy could use the spot as a bargaining chip in his bid for speaker or reward it to an ally whom he wants to have a seat at the table, like Reps. Tom Emmer or Jim Banks, who are both vying to become the GOP whip in one of the most competitive leadership races this fall.
Another decision that Republicans will have to make is whether to keep congressional earmarks, which Democrats brought back during this session of Congress, and whether to institute term limits for all committee leaders, including Democrats. Republicans already have term limits in place for their chairs.
On the rules package, the pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus is pushing to restore the "motion to vacate" the speaker's chair in a way that would allow any single lawmaker to call for a floor vote on ousting the speaker. The Freedom Caucus previously used the vote to hang over the head of former GOP Speaker John Boehner, who eventually resigned after repeatedly clashing with the group.
McCarthy's allies say he doesn't want to kneecap himself by agreeing to restore the motion to vacate, but some hardliners are signaling they're prepared to fight hard for the provision.
"There are some red line issues," freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado told CNN of the rules package, which Republicans will be able to offer amendments to. "The motion to vacate is a red line."