Vulnerable California Republicans vote for Biden impeachment inquiry

House Republicans on Wednesday voted to formalize an impeachment inquiry against Joe Biden, intensifying their investigation into unproven allegations that the president benefited from his son’s overseas business dealings.

The vote is a formality, but it puts the House GOP — including vulnerable California members who face competitive reelection contests next year — on record in support of moving toward impeaching Biden. Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, egged on by former President Trump and the most far-right members of his caucus, launched the inquiry without a vote in September.

The probe has yet to produce evidence that proves the GOP’s longstanding, unproven claim that Biden benefited from his son Hunter’s overseas business dealings.

The U.S. Constitution does not require the chamber to vote to launch an impeachment inquiry, legal experts told The Times. Still, Republicans have sought to portray formalizing the probe as a way to aid investigators.

“Short of declaring war, impeachment is the most serious act Congress can take,” Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove), said in a floor speech ahead of the vote. “We owe it to the country to get to the bottom of these allegations. And that requires the House to objectively invoke its full investigatory powers, respect the due process rights of all involved and lay all of the facts before the American people.”

The 221-212 vote fell along party lines.

Ahead of the floor vote, Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which is leading the inquiry, blasted the probe, calling it a partisan move that will waste taxpayer dollars to appease the far right.

“After 11 months nobody can tell you what Joe Biden’s alleged crime is, where it happened, what the motive was or who the victims are,” the Maryland Democrat said at a news conference ahead of the floor vote.

He added: “[Republicans] mountain of evidence but all the evidence shows that Joe Biden is not guilty of any presidential offenses.”

House Republicans have been itching to impeach Biden since Trump left office in 2021. One day after the president’s inauguration, then-freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) filed the first impeachment articles against Biden. She and other far-right lawmakers and GOP operatives have tried connecting the president with his son Hunter’s foreign business dealings. Though Hunter is under federal indictment for unrelated crimes, House investigators have not yet produced evidence to charge Biden with malfeasance.

It is unclear when the House probe into Biden will end or whether it will produce charges the lower chamber will vote on. If the House votes to impeach Biden, the Democratic-controlled Senate will hold a trial, which requires a two-thirds majority to convict. The U.S. Senate has never removed an American president from office.

Republicans in both chambers have expressed deep skepticism about the inquiry. So has the White House, which has been working in overdrive to bash the GOP for what administration officials have characterized as a baseless probe designed to appease Trump, who was twice impeached by House Democrats.

In 2019, the Democrat-controlled House impeached Trump for abuse of power and obstructing Congress’ impeachment investigation into his threats to withhold military aid from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky unless Zelensky launched an investigation of Biden, then a candidate for president. The House in 2021 again impeached Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection. (The Senate twice declined to convict.)

The Wednesday vote will likely aid Republicans in deep red districts in fending off challenges from far-right candidates by helping them prove their loyalty to Trump. The vote is also likely to aid Democratic challengers in competitive districts who are eager to win over moderates by tying incumbent GOP lawmakers to former president, who is unpopular among swing voters.

The vote could come back to haunt swing-district Republican candidates. A majority of voters in competitive districts view the probe as baseless, according to an early December survey commissioned by Congressional Integrity Project, a Democratic aligned nonprofit, and conducted by Public Policy Polling. The survey found that 52% of voters saw the impeachment inquiry as designed to damage Biden politically. Most Trump voters — 85% — said the probe was more about finding the truth. Fifty-six percent of people who declined to back either presidential candidate in 2020 characterized the probe as more of a serious effort to investigate important problems.

The Congressional Integrity Project recently launched a “seven figure campaign” in California and other competitive districts targeting Republicans who backed formalizing the inquiry, according to Matthew Herdman, a spokesman for the nonprofit. The group purchased digital ads and mobile billboards targeting vulnerable Republicans, including California Reps. John Duarte of Modesto, Mike Garcia of Santa Clarita, Young Kim of Anaheim Hills, Michelle Steel of Seal Beach and David Valadao of Hanford. Their races are rated as competitive by Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan outfit that focuses on congressional races.

On Monday, the Congressional Integrity Project paid for a mobile ad reading “Call [Valadao]. Tell him enough is enough” to drive around Valadao’s Bakersfield field office.

Digital ads going after candidates such as Garcia note that House Republicans have struggled to “pass a budget or desperately needed aide in Ukraine” but have instead focused on formalizing a “bogus impeachment inquiry into President Biden without a single shred of evidence that the president did anything wrong.”

“Mike Garcia promised to focus on real priorities, not political stunts,” the ad said.

As part of the probe into Biden family members’ business dealings, House investigators subpoenaed Hunter Biden last month to testify Wednesday morning in a private deposition. In advance of the deposition, the younger Biden’s lawyers repeatedly sought to hold the questioning in public, arguing that an open proceeding would prevent selective leaks of his remarks.

Rather than show up for the scheduled questioning, Hunter defied the subpoena and instead held a press conference outside the Capitol in which he reiterated his desire for a public hearing and attacked Republicans for “distortions, manipulated evidence and lies.”

“Let me state as clearly as I can: My father was not financially involved in my business—not as a practicing lawyer, not as a board member of Burisma, not in my partnership with a Chinese private businessman, not in my investments at home nor abroad, and certainly not as an artist,” Biden told reporters as he was flanked by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) and his defense attorney, Abbe Lowell.

“In the depths of my addiction, I was extremely irresponsible with my finances. But to suggest that is grounds for an impeachment inquiry is beyond the absurd. It’s shameless. There is no evidence to support the allegations that my father was financially involved in my business, because it did not happen.”

Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty to the charges in Delaware. In the California case, his lawyers have emphasized that their client had long ago paid his tax debts and that his mishandled financial affairs coincided with the depths of his drug and alcohol addiction.

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, blasted Republicans for escalating the probe. “They can start an impeachment inquiry, doesn’t mean they should because the evidence isn’t there,” Gomez said in a news conference ahead of the floor vote. “Every time they do that it nips away at the foundation of our democracy. And the public and people lose faith.”