Congress will probably have broader authority now to dig into the president’s finances and could spend more resources investigating the president and his family. An active inquiry could also impede Biden’s efforts to stay out of the political fray, undermining his effort to keep a light campaign footprint and focus on appearing presidential for as long as possible.
Some Biden supporters also worry that a drawn-out inquiry could take a personal toll on the president, especially since it may center on his son Hunter.
“Nobody wants to go through it,” said Jennifer Palmieri, a Democratic strategist who worked in President Bill Clinton’s White House when he was impeached. “There can be political upsides, but no one wants to go through it. It is certainly going to wear on the president some, and it’s also personal — and that’s just rough.”
Still, Democrats were quick to note that the move carries significant political risks for Republicans as well. Palmieri noted that Clinton hit the highest approval ratings of his presidency when he was facing impeachment proceedings, and Democrats picked up seats in the 1998 midterm elections in a voter backlash against the GOP.
Democrats said the inquiry into Biden could similarly have political consequences for Republicans, particularly because the GOP has not unearthed credible allegations against the president.
“They have no evidence, so they’re launching the next phase of their evidence-free goose chase simply to throw red meat to the right wing so they can continue baselessly attacking the president to play extreme politics,” Ian Sams, a White House spokesman, said in a statement.
Clinton was impeached after a sweeping, years-long independent counsel investigation that laid out evidence for House Republicans’ allegations of perjury and obstruction of justice against the president. Clinton was ultimately acquitted by the Senate.
Biden is confronting no such evidence, Palmieri said.
“That inquiry stemmed from wrongdoing by President Clinton, and in the case of Biden, it is evidence-free,” she added. “Matters of Hunter Biden have been looked into for five years, including by a Trump Department of Justice, and there’s just not been any evidence of wrongdoing by President Biden.”
But Republicans think they can unearth enough incriminating facts to create at least a cloud of doubt around Biden as he heads into a reelection year. They hope that serves as a counterweight to the four criminal indictments targeting Trump, including for allegedly seeking to overturn the 2020 election results.
Tim Miller, a former Republican operative who left the party because of his opposition to Trump, cautioned Democrats against taking an overly optimistic view of the political ramifications of the impeachment. He cited the damage Republicans inflicted on Hillary Clinton, then considered a formidable presidential contender, in 2016 hearings on the killing of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
The committee did not find Clinton culpable for the deaths, but did discover that she had used a private email server during her time as secretary of state, a fact that proved politically devastating.
“You never know what happens with investigations,” Miller said. “Something could turn up.”
On Tuesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) officially directed House committees to open an impeachment inquiry into Biden that centers on whether the president benefited from his son’s business dealings. The announcement came after intense pressure from some of the most conservative members of the House, despite the lack of evidence showing the elder Biden profited from his son’s work.
“These are allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption and warrant further investigation by the House of Representatives,” McCarthy told reporters Tuesday morning. He provided few details about the specific allegations the House will pursue.
Republicans have long focused their attention on Hunter Biden, his foreign business dealings and his past drug use, and while the president’s son has faced criminal troubles, Republicans have not presented evidence linking Joe Biden to any wrongdoing.
In June, Hunter Biden reached a tentative agreement with federal prosecutors to plead guilty to two minor tax crimes and admit to the facts of a gun charge under terms that probably would have kept him out of jail. But the deal collapsed amid a dispute over whether he would get immunity from additional criminal charges.
Now special counsel David Weiss has told the court he expects to file charges and go to trial.
For months, White House officials have been preparing for a possible impeachment inquiry and other congressional investigations. Ahead of last year’s midterm elections, when it became clear Republicans were likely to take control of the House, the White House brought on additional lawyers and communications staffers and instructed key agencies to plan for an onslaught of requests from Congress.
Biden officials have also contacted officials who worked in the Clinton White House during his impeachment proceeding for advice, according to people familiar with the communications who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential conversations.
Democrats have been largely sanguine about House Republicans’ investigative efforts to this point, contending that GOP lawmakers have found no evidence of wrongdoing or even produced damaging hearings or documents about Biden’s first two years.
In recent weeks, as talk of impeachment bubbled up among far-right Republicans, White House officials started blasting out reports of press interviews by House Republicans in which they conceded a lack of evidence of impeachable offenses by the president, such as comments Rep. Ken Buck (Colo.) made last weekend on MSNBC.
“The time for impeachment is the time when there’s evidence linking President Biden, if there’s evidence linking President Biden, to a high crime or misdemeanor,” Buck said. “That doesn’t exist right now.”
The White House and the Biden campaign have also taken aim at McCarthy for his previous comments that he would not open an impeachment inquiry without a full vote of the House. The speaker on Tuesday opted to launch the inquiry without such a vote, and it is not clear the investigation would have been approved by the full House, despite Republicans’ 222-212 margin in the chamber.
Democrats said the move was aimed at placating far-right Republicans rather than unearthing credible facts about Biden.
“As Donald Trump ramped up his demands for a baseless impeachment inquiry, Kevin McCarthy cemented his role as the Trump campaign’s super-surrogate by turning the House of Representatives into an arm of his presidential campaign,” Ammar Moussa, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, said in a statement.
He added: “While MAGA Republicans spend all of their time attacking President Biden and his family, the president is working every day to make life better for American families across the country.”
The president himself has yet to address the inquiry directly. He returned early Tuesday from a trip to Asia, attending a summit of the Group of 20 economic powers in India and then traveling to Vietnam. Biden had no public events Tuesday, and the White House did not hold a daily briefing for reporters.
Jim Messina, who managed Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, said the president should continue his approach of focusing on governing and stay out of political brawls as much as possible. Biden has spent much of the past few months visiting various states to talk about “Bidenomics” and his infrastructure and manufacturing programs.
“What voters really want is for him to focus on them, and that’s what he’s doing,” Messina said. “The back-and-forth on [impeachment] is going to distract the Republicans, and we should not follow them down that well.”
Messina added that Republicans run the risk of alienating swing voters, many of whom are not tuned in to the daily political headlines and could be turned off by what they see as bickering and pettiness.
“Swing voters will rightfully view this party as not doing anything for them,” he said. “It’s just political infighting and it doesn’t give you anything to run on.”
The impeachment inquiry also comes just weeks before a potential government shutdown, and Democrats are eager to highlight how some Republicans have tied the two together. Congress must pass legislation by Sept. 30 to avoid a shutdown.
“I’ve already decided I will not vote to fund the government unless we have passed an impeachment inquiry,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said last month.
Miller, the former GOP operative, acknowledged the Republicans’ focus on the past instead of the future could pose risks if they focus on the minutiae of Hunter Biden’s tenure with a Ukrainian energy company rather than matters more relevant to American families.
“I do not believe Hunter Biden’s Burisma contract is going to be meaningful as compared to other issues that come up like inflation, age or gas prices,” Miller said. “I do think the Republicans really do risk seeming out of touch with legitimate concerns if they’re spending the entire 2024 election cycle on re-litigating election fraud and impeaching Biden over his son.”