In the three days since House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, White House representatives have slammed the probe as “extreme politics at its worst,” dismissed it as “illegitimate” in cable news appearances and blasted out a 14-page rebuttal.
Biden’s broader circle has joined the aggressive pushback. His re-election campaign fired off a fundraising email Wednesday castigating the inquiry as “theater with bad actors.” His son Hunter, who is at the center of Republicans’ impeachment push, on Wednesday sued a hard-right activist who has been investigating him and providing information to Congress.
This flurry of reactions comes as the president’s allies say Biden himself plans to remain above the fray and focus on touting his economic record and leading the country. At a meeting of health-care advisers on Wednesday, Biden ignored reporters’ shouted questions about impeachment, and he made no remarks about the inquiry during an economic speech Thursday.
The dynamic suggests a two-tiered strategy as Republicans begin pursuing an impeachment inquiry that still includes few details: Biden will suggest that the impeachment investigation is political gamesmanship not worthy of his attention, while his associates and allies engage the Republicans in bitter hand-to-hand combat.
Joel Benenson, a Democratic strategist who worked on the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, said it makes sense for Biden’s proxies to handle the hard-hitting tactics while Biden avoids becoming distracted by the inquiry if he can. The White House, Benenson said, should aggressively criticize Republicans for attempting to divert attention from the four criminal cases against former president Donald Trump.
“I think the Republicans are stepping in a swamp here,” Benenson said. “And I think they’re going to get very muddy trying to swim out of it.”
Most Republicans disagree, at least publicly. McCarthy has said the impeachment inquiry will focus on whether the president benefited from his son’s business dealings, among other issues, and GOP leaders say many Americans have genuine questions about that. “We will go wherever the evidence takes us,” McCarthy told reporters.
Biden did address the inquiry – briefly – at a campaign fundraiser in McLean, Virginia, on Wednesday evening, brushing it off as intertwined with Republican threats to shut down the government. Some of McCarthy’s most conservative members, whose votes he needs to approve spending bills, are among those pressing hardest for impeachment. If Congress can’t agree on spending, the government will shut down.
The president said he is focused on other things than the inquiry. “I’ve got a job to do,” Biden said. “Everybody always asks about impeachment. I get up every day – not a joke – not focused on impeachment.”
Biden recently returned from a trip to India and Vietnam, where he sought to bolster the global coalition against Russia’s war in Ukraine and strengthen America’s alliances confronting China. He said Thursday he plans to deliver a major address on democracy in coming weeks.
The president’s aides hope such activities convey that Biden is engaged in issues of significance to the country while his adversaries are tied up in pursuing vague allegations against his son. Even as they announced their impeachment inquiry this week, House Republicans struggled to pass the basic funding bills needed to keep the government open.
Democrats argue that voters will be impatient with what they will see as unwarranted political drama in Washington. They cite the Republicans’ impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998, which led to a spike in Clinton’s popularity and set the stage for Republican losses in that year’s midterms.
And they are trying especially hard to tie the impeachment inquiry to Trump, who has encouraged the move and is unpopular with many swing voters. A Biden-Harris 2024 campaign spokesman accused McCarthy of acting as an arm of Trump’s campaign and said Republicans are litigating “the same debunked conspiracy theories they’ve investigated for over four years.”
“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,” spokesman Ammar Moussa said in a statement. He pointed to some congressional Republicans who have said they have seen no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden.
The Biden campaign also sent out an impeachment-focused fundraising email, signed by Vice President Harris, that raised the most money of any email sent in her name this campaign cycle, according to a person familiar with campaign strategy who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal metrics.
The person said the Biden team would continue to adhere to a message that Biden is focused on the economy while the inquiry is a “ploy by Republicans to attack the president and hurt him politically and help out Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.” But they acknowledged that the inquiry is likely to be difficult for Democrats and the White House.
“I don’t think there’s a Democrat out there who is rooting for impeachment to happen,” the person said. “I don’t think impeachment is going to be a particularly pleasant experience, and I think everybody is pretty clear-eyed about that.”
Democrats have at times struggled to explain Hunter Biden’s activities, including his tenure on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma at a time when his father was Obama’s point man on Ukraine. They stress that there is no evidence that any of those activities violated the law, however.
More relevant to the impeachment effort, House Republicans have not released evidence indicating that President Biden benefited from his son’s business dealings, although they have accused the Justice Department of interfering with an investigation into Hunter Biden’s activities. But so far, they have said little about how the impeachment inquiry will be different from their current investigations of the president’s son.
“Republicans in Congress, right, they have spent all year investigating the president,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Wednesday. “That’s what they’ve spent all year doing and have turned up with no evidence – none – he that he did anything wrong.”
Hunter Biden’s activities are potentially among the most politically volatile issues that Biden faces as he pursues four more years in office. The younger Biden has stayed close to his father in recent months as he reached a tentative plea deal in a federal tax and gun crimes case – and then saw that agreement collapse. Hunter Biden was indicted Thursday for allegedly making false statements and illegally possessing a gun, paving the way for a possible trial.
Hunter Biden, whose lawyers have at times taken a notably aggressive approach, sued one of his chief antagonists, former Trump aide Garrett Ziegler, on Wednesday, calling him “a zealot who has waged a sustained, unhinged and obsessed campaign against [Hunter Biden] and the entire Biden family for more than two years.”
The lawsuit alleges that Ziegler, who compiles personal and financial records from Hunter Biden and posts them online, violated computer privacy laws, allegations that Ziegler has forcefully denied.
Also on Wednesday, an attorney for Hunter Biden wrote to Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, demanding that he retract his claim on Newsmax that he never received bank records that he requested from Hunter Biden. “For you to now go on live television and say we did not respond or ignored your Committee’s requests is simply not true,” Abbe Lowell wrote.
In response, a spokesman for the Oversight Committee reasserted that the records were withheld. “Hunter Biden has not provided these documents and communications,” the spokesman said in a statement. “Hunter Biden’s legal team is splitting hairs because they have no defense for the Bidens’ corruption other than to try to distract from the facts.”
White House spokesman Ian Sams, who was brought into the White House last year in part to respond to GOP congressional investigations, has been among the president’s most vociferous defenders. In an initial statement, he called the impeachment inquiry an “evidence-free goose chase.” Then he hit the cable news circuit to hammer home the message.
In an MSNBC appearance Tuesday, Sams listed House Republicans who had expressed uncertainty about the need for a probe, including Reps. David Joyce (Ohio), Don Bacon (Neb.) and Dusty Johnson (S.D.).
“This isn’t based on anything substantive,” Sams said. “It’s based on the fact that [McCarthy] is being attacked from his right and he’s throwing them red meat.”
The next morning, the White House blasted out a link to a news story featuring impeachment experts calling Republicans’ case weak. Biden aides also sent a memo to news organizations arguing that coverage of the impeachment inquiry should emphasize “the illegitimacy of the claims on which House Republicans are basing all their actions.”
At the top, in red capital letters, the memo declared, “HOUSE REPUBLICANS ARE BASING THEIR BIDEN IMPEACHMENT STUNT ON FALSE CLAIMS THAT HAVE BEEN REPEATEDLY DEBUNKED.”
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Meryl Kornfield and Tyler Pager contributed to this report.