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Here Come the GOP Investigations
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Here Come the GOP Investigations

The new narrow House majority has big plans to put the squeeze on President Biden.

Happy Friday! Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers lost again last night? For the seventh time this season? That’s a darn shame.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday she will not seek re-election to leadership in the next Congress, ending a 20-year run atop the House Democratic Caucus that featured two separate stints as speaker. “The hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic Caucus that I so deeply respect,” she said, noting she will remain a member of the House representing San Francisco. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer also announced he won’t run for party leadership in the next Congress, setting up an expected generational shift in the party ranks. Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark, and Pete Aguilar are the likeliest candidates to ascend.
  • One day after insisting—contra the assessment of the U.S. and its NATO allies—that the explosion that killed two people in Poland Tuesday had not been a Ukrainian defense missile gone awry, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that “I don’t know 100 percent—I think the world also doesn’t know 100 percent what happened.” He added, “We can’t say specifically that this was the air defense of Ukraine.”
  • A longtime veteran of Republican campaigns was found guilty of charges related to a scheme to solicit and conceal donations from a Russian national to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Jesse Benton, a former top adviser to Ron Paul and his son Rand, was pardoned in 2020 by Trump for previous convictions on campaign finance crimes involving illegal donations in Iowa.
  • WNBA star Brittney Griner—detained near Moscow in February for having cannabis oil in her luggage—began serving her nine-year sentence in the IK-2 female penal colony in Mordovia this week, dampening hopes that negotiations for her release between the White House and Kremlin were making progress.
  • North Korea launched yet another missile into the Sea of Japan Thursday in response to massive joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea in the region this week. North Korean officials have denounced the exercises as “rehearsal for invasion” and warned that “The United States will realize that it is taking a gamble it will regret for sure.”
  • The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial jobless claims—a proxy for layoffs—fell by 4,000 week-over-week to a seasonally adjusted 222,000 last week. The measure is up from earlier this year, but it remains near historic lows, signaling the labor market—though cooling—continues to be tight.
  • The average number of weekly confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States increased about 2 percent over the past two weeks according to CDC data, while the average number of weekly deaths attributed to the virus—a lagging indicator—fell 10 percent. About 21,300 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, holding steady from the number hospitalized two weeks ago.

The Bomb-Throwing Coalition Lays its Plans

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks after being nominated to be House Speaker at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on November 15, 2022. (Photo by Mandel NGAN / AFP) (Photo by Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images.)

You could see the midterm results—disappointing for Republicans, particularly the more MAGA—as a sign that voters are sick of, as Sen. Mitch McConnell put it this week, “chaos, negativity, [and] excessive attacks.” You could see them as a clear message from independents to ditch the lunacy and prioritize policy debates on immigration and the economy. You could see them as a plea to quit fixating on past grievances and chart a path forward.

You could, but the House GOP conference—which tied itself to the MAGA movement two years ago via Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s post-January 6 pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago—evidently doesn’t.

With a victory in California’s 27th District on Wednesday, Republicans finally clinched what will likely end up being one of the slimmest House majorities in modern political history. But the party’s underperformance didn’t stop McCarthy, now the aspiring House speaker, from spiking the football as if they had ridden the long-promised Red Tsunami into power. “Tonight it is official: One-party Democrat rule in Washington is FINISHED,” he bragged on Fox News. “We have fired Nancy Pelosi.” 

Though Democrats still control the Senate and White House, House Republicans will now run that chamber’s committees, allowing them to set the agenda, push legislation, and—perhaps most importantly—conduct oversight investigations. They’ve got big plans.

Reps. Jim Jordan and James Comer—future heads of the Judiciary and Oversight Committees, respectively—kicked things off Thursday with a press conference announcing their intention to investigate Hunter Biden’s questionable business dealings, and whether his father has ever been involved in them. “We’re not trying to prove Hunter Biden is a bad actor—he is,” Comer said. “Our investigation is of Joe Biden.” The White House continues to maintain that the president never discusses business with his son, but Republicans on the House Oversight Committee released a preliminary report yesterday claiming they are “aware of the existence of additional evidence implicating the Biden family business ventures in suspicious activities.” They claim the Biden administration has “obstructed” their efforts to obtain additional information. With powers afforded the majority, Comer said he’d focus first on obtaining more than 150 Suspicious Activities Reports about Hunter Biden—documents financial institutions file with the Treasury to flag potentially concerning transactions.

That laser focus on the Hunter-Joe connection seems to indicate that, down the road, House Republicans may push for impeachment—though Comer has sidestepped questions on it and McCarthy has expressed reservations. “The country doesn’t like impeachment used for political purposes at all,” he told Punchbowl News recently, adding he hasn’t yet seen anything that merits impeachment. “I think the country wants to heal.” Republicans have consistently complained—fairly or not—that their Democratic counterparts made up their minds to impeach Donald Trump before they even took office.

Firebrand Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has different ideas about what the country wants. She’s introduced several articles of impeachment already—the first on January 21, 2021, less than 24 hours after Biden took office—and promised a GOP House would move them forward. “Any GOP Member growing weak on this will sorely disappoint our country,” she wrote. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has said impeachment could happen “whether it’s justified or not.”

House Republicans have plenty more investigations cooking too. They want to examine the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the origins of COVID-19 and decisions about shutdowns, border policies, the leak of the Dobbs decision draft, and Department of Justice “politicization,” including investigations of parents threatening school boards and the decision to retrieve documents from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

To be sure, there are plenty of unanswered questions on these topics that rigorous congressional oversight could help answer—Haley reported on their plans and results so far—though the House GOP conference’s combative tone may not inspire confidence in their desire for depoliticized fact-finding. “In just 47 days, House Republicans will have the gavel, and we will be prepared to hold the Biden administration accountable from day one,” McCarthy wrote Thursday. “Our investigations are just getting started.” 

Not all House Republicans are eager to chase committee hearing soundbites. “If parts of our party want to go into these investigations, that’s their prerogative,” New York Rep.-elect George Santos told Fox News this week. “I don’t want to waste my time in Washington engaging in hyper-partisan issues, I want to deliver results.”

The White House—and aligned Democratic operatives—are already pushing back. “Instead of working with President Biden to address issues important to the American people, like lower costs, congressional Republicans’ top priority is to go after President Biden with politically motivated attacks chock-full of long-debunked conspiracy theories,” White House counsel spokesman Ian Sams said. The Democratic National Committee published a memo Thursday describing Comer as “a Trump apologist who has made clear that his phony investigations are political exercises designed to hurt President Biden.”

Meanwhile, Democratic operations plan to spend big countering Republican efforts. Facts First USA—a nonprofit run by Democratic activist David Brock—has been circulating a $5 million-a-year plan to push back on investigations “too personal or delicate for the White House” to respond to directly—seemingly a reference to the Hunter probe. The newly relaunched Congressional Integrity Project will run a “war room” with researchers and pollsters working to undermine House GOP leaders and investigations. The team reportedly includes former Biden aides and advisers.

Not all of House Republicans’ plans involve digging up White House wrongdoing—they also have some legislative priorities. GOP members are looking to beef up border security, cut spending, expand oil and gas drilling, and cut down permitting time in the United States. With Democratic control in the Senate and White House and bipartisan cooperation unlikely, most of these will end up as messaging bills, designed to make Democrats take votes that can be used against them in subsequent political campaigns. As Haley reported, McCarthy has promised brinkmanship tactics—holding up debt ceiling and defense bill negotiations—to force concessions on issues like spending cuts.

But with such a slim majority, McCarthy—or whoever ends up serving as speaker—will need to keep pretty much the entire conference on board to make legislative progress. It’s a tall order. Leadership’s control of campaign fundraising, the power of earmarks, and committee memberships have all been diluted in recent years, weakening a speaker’s typical carrots and sticks. Members of the House Freedom Caucus in particular are gleeful about the leverage they’ll have in a narrow majority. Rep. Thomas Massie told reporters he’d be “just as happy” with a slim majority. “If there’s a one-seat majority, my caucus has one person,” Massie said. “It’s me. So I can decide whether a bill passes or not.” Greene has reportedly already extracted a promise from House leadership to investigate Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Department of Justice’s treatment of people jailed in connection with the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

“There are two contradictory thoughts” on how the Republican conference will behave, a former House leadership aide told The Dispatch. “Because it’s a closely divided House, and such a narrow majority—you’re going to have everybody pulling in different directions and a million bad ideas, and [McCarthy will] have to say yes to all of them.”

“[But] the narrowness of the majority [could also] provide a real sense of unity, and remind members of the need to come together,” he added. “Because if the team doesn’t work together, they can’t get anything accomplished.”

Worth Your Time

  • Michael Gerson—a speechwriter for President George W. Bush turned Washington Post columnist—died on Thursday at the age of 58 after a battle with cancer. “He was a man of deep Christian faith and intense moral convictions, and he had enormous respect for the office of the presidency and for public service in American life more generally but very little patience for cynicism, fatalism, or small-mindedness,” Yuval Levin writes of his friend and former colleague. “There is much to say about Mike Gerson as a public person, his influence and reach. But to me what stands out even more is the private example he set as a man living a life of deep faith and goodness while surrounded first by the temptations to self-aggrandizement that inevitably come with being near power and then by the temptations to self-pity that understandably come with being burdened by illness so intensely for so long. Mike could resist both temptations for the same reason—because he loved God and knew that God loved him.”
  • One of Gerson’s most memorable columns was published in 2013, when he dropped his eldest son off at college. “Eighteen years is not enough. A crib is bought. Christmas trees get picked out. There is the park and lullabies and a little help with homework. The days pass uncounted, until they end. The adjustment is traumatic,” he wrote. “I know this is hard on him as well. He will be homesick, as I was (intensely) as a freshman. An education expert once told me that among the greatest fears of college students is they won’t have a room at home to return to. They want to keep a beachhead in their former life. But with due respect to my son’s feelings, I have the worse of it. I know something he doesn’t—not quite a secret, but incomprehensible to the young. He is experiencing the adjustments that come with beginnings. His life is starting for real. I have begun the long letting go. Put another way: He has a wonderful future in which my part naturally diminishes. I have no possible future that is better without him close.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In this week’s edition of The Current (🔒), Klon takes a look at China’s reliance on foreign technology and expertise. “The nation’s leaders have long recognized that modernization is critical for national survival,” he notes. But “using foreign technological expertise without changing Chinese culture has frequently restricted progress, and at times has even caused the country to move backward.”
  • Could election trutherism on the right be fading? “There’s been little serious agitation about ballot-rigging among populists despite Democrats overperforming their polls in statewide races across the country,” Nick notes in yesterday’s Boiling Frogs (🔒). “Why? It may be as simple as Trump himself having not been on the ballot. Passions naturally run hot when power is wrested from the emperor’s hands. They run less hot when no-names like Tudor Dixon and Don Bolduc are beclowned by replacement-level Democrats.”
  • On today’s episode of The Dispatch Podcast, Sarah, David, and Kevin engage in some way-too-early 2024 speculation. With Donald Trump officially running for president, Ron DeSantis faces a twisted decision tree. How should he proceed? Plus: Should NATO and the United States respond to the deadly missile incident in Poland?
  • On the site today, Audrey Fahlberg reports on how New York Republicans managed to overperform in last week’s midterms, while Bill Roggio and David Adesnik write about the increasing boldness of Iran-backed militias in Iraq.

Let Us Know

With Senate Democrats and the White House highly unlikely to advance House GOP priorities, are these oversight investigations actually the best use of the new majority’s time? Or should Republican lawmakers try to send a different signal to voters ahead of 2024?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.