WASHINGTON — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Tuesday he is directing three House committees to open an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden in an effort to seek bank records and other documents from the president and his son Hunter Biden.
Speaking to reporters at a news conference, McCarthy said an impeachment inquiry is a “logical next step” of the GOP-led investigations that have been going on for months.
“This logical next step will give our committees the full power to gather all the facts and answers for the American public,” which he said “is exactly what we want to know — the answers.”
“I believe the president would want to answer these questions and allegations, as well,” he said.
House Republicans, McCarthy said, “uncovered serious and credible allegations into President Biden’s conduct.”
“These are allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption,” he said. “They warrant further investigation by the House of Representatives.”
McCarthy said Oversight Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., will lead the inquiry in coordination with Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith, R-Mo.
A vote to launch an impeachment inquiry would be a first step in the effort to remove Biden from office; it isn’t a vote on impeachment itself.
McCarthy’s decision is a major reversal after he told the conservative website Breitbart this month that he wouldn’t open an impeachment inquiry without a vote of the full House. He doesn’t appear to have enough votes to proceed on the issue, facing skepticism from across the GOP spectrum due to the lack of evidence implicating the president in Hunter Biden’s alleged transgressions.
It also marks a reversal for McCarthy from 2019, when he inveighed against Democrats for initiating an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump before a vote, questioning the legitimacy of such an investigation unless the House were to authorize it. House Democrats eventually voted to authorize it.
White House spokesman Ian Sams said in a statement that House Republicans have “turned up no evidence of wrongdoing” in nine months investigating Biden.
“His own Republican members have said so,” Sams said, referring to House Republican Conference led by McCarthy. “He vowed to hold a vote to open impeachment, now he flip flopped because he doesn’t have support. This is extreme politics at its worst.”
Hunter Biden’s lawyer Abbe Lowell criticized the impeachment inquiry as “based on repackaged, inaccurate conspiracies about Hunter Biden and his legitimate business activities.”
Jordan and Comer will update members at a meeting of the Republican Conference on Thursday morning, two Republican sources said.
Punchbowl News first reported the development.
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., a member of the Oversight Committee, posted on X, formerly Twitter: “A formal impeachment inquiry into President Biden’s culture of corruption is long overdue and fully warranted.”
“Honored to be on the House Oversight Committee — boy do I have some questions,” he added.
Some Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans similarly had a positive reaction.
“The inquiry is an inquiry — it’s not an impeachment,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters. “It seems to me that it will open up an avenue to get a lot of information that we feel we’ve been stonewalled. So it’s up to the House what they do.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., compared the Biden impeachment inquiry to Watergate as he voiced his support for it: “Watergate was pretty bad, but this may be on par with that, maybe worse. So I’m sure we get the facts. Yeah, I’m in favor of an inquiry. I think we should get the facts. And I think it should be done, I emphasize, in public.”
Democrats were less enthusiastic. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the effort “absurd” and said many Republicans have gone “off the deep end.” Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., responded sarcastically, saying, “Oh, my God, really? Oh, my gosh! You know, oh, it’s devastating,” as he laughed and made scary ghost noises with hand gestures. “Oooh, don’t do it! Please don’t do it! Oh no! Oh no!” he added.
McCarthy has signaled for weeks that the House could take up an impeachment inquiry, which would provide additional legal power to the House’s investigations into the Biden family. The GOP-led investigations haven’t uncovered evidence of wrongdoing by the president or connections between the president and Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings.
The House Oversight Committee’s investigation, which focuses on Hunter Biden’s meetings and payments from several foreign sources, has yet to produce direct evidence showing that the president either received such money or helped solicit it. Hunter Biden’s business partner, Devon Archer, testified July 31 that Hunter Biden would frequently call his father as he was meeting foreign business associates — but that the conversations involved only pleasantries, such as discussing the weather.
A spokesperson said in a statement Tuesday that the Oversight Committee “will soon pursue Hunter and James Biden’s personal and business bank records. The Committee also plans to interview additional Biden family associates.”
Some politically vulnerable and centrist Republicans have expressed wariness about whether to launch a formal impeachment inquiry, saying the GOP doesn’t have enough evidence to make the move.
Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., a member of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus, said in an interview with MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” that he’s wary about an impeachment inquiry.
“I’m reluctant to agree with Speaker McCarthy. He doesn’t need to put this to a vote, even though we’ve said before that he would put this to a vote on the House floor. He doesn’t need to,” he said.
Buck said he wants to “look at the evidence” before he determines whether he thinks an inquiry is warranted. “I will go where the evidence takes me, and I still want to look at the evidence.”
The White House is ramping up a war room to lead a response to a Republican impeachment inquiry, NBC News has reported. Democrats on the House Oversight Committee are also preparing an active defense of the president as their GOP counterparts continue to pursue evidence to support a potential inquiry.
Right-wing Republicans are pushing back against a short-term funding bill to avert a government shutdown at the end of the month. Some House Democrats took issue with McCarthy’s drawing attention to an impeachment inquiry amid looming legislative deadlines for government funding.
The chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., posted on X: “This impeachment is Kevin McCarthy’s shiny new object to distract the public from the fact that the GOP can’t even pass bills to fund the government. So, here we go — headed to an extreme MAGA Republican shutdown while they play political games with a non-starter impeachment.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, defended Biden and accused McCarthy of having “caved” to extremists within the GOP.
“Let me be very, very clear: President Biden has done nothing wrong, and House Republicans have not found a shred of evidence to suggest otherwise,” Nadler said in a statement. “Speaker McCarthy may get to keep his job for another day, but he has once again caved to the most extreme elements of the Republican Party.”
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., decried the inquiry at a news conference Tuesday evening.
“Extreme MAGA Republicans have launched an illegitimate impeachment inquiry that is a kangaroo court, fishing expedition and conspiracy theater rolled into one,” he said. “There is not a shred of evidence that President Joe Biden has engaged in wrongdoing. There is not a shred of evidence that President Joe Biden has committed an impeachable offense. There is not a shred of evidence that President Joe Biden has committed a crime.”
House Minority Whip Katherine Clark, D-Mass., added the inquiry announcement is “all the evidence we need to show that Kevin McCarthy has lost control of the gavel” as McCarthy faces threats to remove him as speaker.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., floated the idea Sunday that he would try to force a vote to oust McCarthy if he doesn’t press forward with an impeachment inquiry — and that he would even work with Democrats to do so if needed. Gaetz, however, on Tuesday reiterated his threat against McCarthy despite McCarthy’s announcement.
“I rise today to serve notice,” Gaetz said in a speech on the House floor. “Mr. Speaker, you are out of compliance with the agreement that allowed you to assume this role. The path forward for the House of Representatives is to either bring you into immediate total compliance or remove you, pursuant to a motion to vacate the chair.”
Gaetz demanded that McCarthy not put any short-term spending bills on the floor and that he hold votes on balancing the budget and term limits. He also demanded that House Republicans issue subpoenas for Hunter Biden and other members of the Biden family.
CORRECTION (Sept. 12, 2023, 3:59 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated when Hunter Biden’s business partner, Devon Archer, testified before the House Oversight Committee. It was July 31, not in August.
Rebecca Kaplan and Sahil Kapur reported from Washington. Summer Concepcion reported from New York.
Rebecca is a producer and off-air reporter covering Congress for NBC News, managing coverage of the House.
Summer Concepcion is a politics reporter for NBC News.
Sahil Kapur is a senior national political reporter for NBC News.