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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announces impeachment inquiry

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced today that the House will move forward with an impeachment inquiry into President Biden.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: I am directing our House committee to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. This logical next step will give our committees the full power to gather all the facts and answers for the American public.

CHANG: Now, McCarthy has come under intense pressure from hardline members of his own party to either get more aggressive with Biden or risk losing his job as speaker. NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins us now with the latest. Hey, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So I know that House Republicans have been already investigating Biden and members of his administration all year long. Why did the speaker launch this official inquiry now?

WALSH: Because he's coming back to the Capitol after six weeks of recess with a lot of conservatives saying he needs to act or potentially face a vote to oust him. I mean, a lot of allies of former President Trump are in the House Republican Conference, and they're angry about the indictments that were announced against him over the summer. They argue that Trump was impeached twice when Democrats were in charge, so Republicans should impeach President Biden. This also comes at the same time that McCarthy's trying to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month. A lot of these same conservatives who want impeachment also want deep spending cuts and are threatening the speaker's job over that debate as well. So I think part of the calculation from the speaker is that if he greenlights impeachment now, he could stave off some of that anger from the far right. It's really unclear if that's going to work.

CHANG: But what is the basis that McCarthy is citing for any possible high crimes and misdemeanors committed by President Biden?

WALSH: I mean, McCarthy's arguing that the president lied to the American people about his own family's foreign business dealings. House committees have investigated Hunter Biden, the president's son, for months, and they cite witnesses who say that then-Vice President Biden was on some calls with his son Hunter and stopped by a business dinner and that there was shell money - money directed to various shell companies. But none of these witnesses has produced any direct financial connection between Hunter Biden's business dealings and President Joe Biden.

CHANG: Right. So how has the White House responded so far?

WALSH: You know, they really weren't surprised. They've been sort of staffing up and preparing for a possible impeachment inquiry. Ian Sams - he's a spokesperson for the White House - called Speaker McCarthy's announcement, quote, "extreme politics at its worst." The Biden-Harris campaign also said that the speaker is essentially Trump's super-surrogate, and they say he's turning the House of Representatives into an arm of the presidential campaign.

CHANG: Well, are most Republicans on board with this plan?

WALSH: There's still a split among House Republicans. Those on the far right say it's long overdue. Some say it should have happened sooner rather than later, and some of them were not even satisfied with today's announcement. Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz warned on the House floor that the speaker was not in compliance with the deal he cut back in January to be elected speaker of the House, and Gates even suggested he could bring up a vote to oust him at some point.

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MATT GAETZ: This is a baby step following weeks of pressure from House conservatives to do more. We must move faster.

WALSH: But also, McCarthy has some House moderates who want to build a case before moving forward with any impeachment vote on articles. As for Senate Republicans, they've really kind of sidestepped this today. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said before impeachment should be rare, said the Senate has its hands full dealing with spending bills. He's not going to give any advice to Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

CHANG: That is NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh. Thank you, Deirdre.

WALSH: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.