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Impeachment push set to take center stage in House, bringing new chapter for GOP

<i>Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images</i><br/>House Republicans are preparing to let the push for potential impeachment proceedings dominate their agenda over the next few months.
Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images
House Republicans are preparing to let the push for potential impeachment proceedings dominate their agenda over the next few months.

By Melanie Zanona, Manu Raju and Annie Grayer, CNN

(CNN) — House Republicans are preparing to let the push for potential impeachment proceedings dominate their agenda over the next few months, as Speaker Kevin McCarthy faces growing pressure from an increasingly restive right flank eager to take aim at President Joe Biden and his Cabinet.

The increased focus on impeachment — with Biden’s attorney general and homeland security secretary the highest on the GOP’s list — underscores how Republicans are quickly shifting their focus to red-meat issues that could fire up their base, even as some in their conference are nervous about voter backlash over the more aggressive approach.

Between July and September, Republicans are slated to hear high-profile testimony from a trio of Biden Cabinet officials who have been top impeachment targets on the right: Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Just this week, a new focus emerged for McCarthy when he announced that Republicans are prepared to open an impeachment inquiry into Garland if an IRS whistleblower’s claim about alleged meddling in the Hunter Biden case holds up, an idea that has been heavily promoted by the far-right bloc of his conference.

McCarthy’s comments then set off fresh momentum. He appeared side by side with House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan on Fox News Wednesday night to reaffirm his position. And on Thursday, Jordan, along with House Oversight Chair James Comer and House Ways and Means Chair Jason Smith requested transcribed interviews with Department of Justice, FBI and IRS officials involved in the Hunter Biden case, including US Attorney David Weiss, the Trump-appointed attorney who oversaw the criminal investigation. Garland has rejected claims that the Justice Department improperly interfered in the probe.

The moves come amid pressure on House GOP leaders and committee chairmen to launch official impeachment proceedings – potentially on Biden himself. House Homeland Security Chairman Mark Green said he is conducting a “five phase” investigation into Mayorkas over problems at the southern border that could culminate in an impeachment recommendation to the House Judiciary Committee, which Green expects to finish by this September. His committee is also expected to include a review of Biden’s handling of the border as part of that impeachment probe.

“We’re looking at all the things that they’re failing to do,” Green told CNN. “There’s not going to be that much of a change other than we’ll dig into the actual actions of the president in conjunction with what’s happened.”

With patience on the right wearing out, one hardline GOP member, Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, tried to force a snap floor vote last week on impeaching Biden, though Republican leaders rebuffed the effort and referred the matter to relevant committees instead.

“We’ve been investigating this failure at the southern border now for a little while … and now the House has asked us to add the president’s actions into this,” Green said. “And we’ll dig into that too.”

Conservative firebrand Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has introduced a slew of impeachment articles against Biden and various Cabinet members, has also signaled she intends to force floor votes on her resolutions, meaning the issue is sure to take center stage for the House GOP in the weeks and months ahead.

“I’ve talked to everyone here until I’m blue in the face for a long time about impeachment,” Greene told CNN.

It all represents a new chapter for the nascent House Republican majority – and particularly for McCarthy, who has up until this point been reluctant to lean into impeachment proceedings, instead insisting that his committee chairs focus on gathering evidence and holding hearings before going down that route. And he has instead tried to channel his conference’s focus on messaging bills like energy and immigration.

Many in McCarthy’s conference are uncertain about the new focus.

“Impeachment should be treated in the serious matter it deserves,” said Rep. Don Bacon, who represents a Nebraska swing district and said he would review the facts before deciding how to proceed with any impeachment proceedings. “We’ve lowered the bar over the last four years, and it’s not healthy.”

After facing backlash from conservatives for cutting a debt limit deal with Biden and as the clock ticks toward the 2024 elections, McCarthy has started to warm up to the idea of impeaching a member of Biden’s Cabinet – whether it be Garland or Mayorkas or both, according to multiple sources familiar with this thinking. The move could win over some on his right flank.

McCarthy has also faced pressure behind closed doors as members like Greene have met with him to personally make their case for why the House GOP should launch impeachment proceedings.

And McCarthy will need every ounce of conservative support he can get as he heads into spending season, where he may be forced to ultimately compromise with Democrats once again and fall short of the demands from the far right.

“I think what the House is going to do, we’re going to continue to investigate. We’re going to continue to follow this chain of evidence,” Rep. Byron Donalds, a member of the hardliner House Freedom Caucus, told CNN after the IRS whistleblower testimony was revealed. “I think the evidence is leading us to clear issues of obstruction of Justice at the Department of Justice. And with the White House.”

Impeaching a Cabinet official has only happened once in US history when William Belknap, the secretary of war, was impeached by the House before being acquitted by the Senate in 1876. But some in the GOP view the idea of charging a Cabinet member with committing a high crime or misdemeanor as an easier sell than impeaching Biden himself.

Yet McCarthy would still have some serious work to do in wrangling the votes for impeachment, with some moderate and vulnerable House Republicans still concerned about the optics of the politically contentious move, which would be dead on arrival in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Some of those Republican holdouts serve on the House Judiciary Committee, whose panel would be responsible for launching any official impeachment proceedings.

“I don’t know why we have members on Judiciary that can’t vote for impeachment,” Greene told CNN.

In the meantime, committees are expected to plug away with their investigative work. The House Oversight panel intends to conduct transcribed interviews with witnesses in the investigations into Biden’s mishandling of classified material and potential Biden family influence peddling, an Oversight Committee aide told CNN, while Weiss faces a deadline of next week to hand over documents related to the Hunter Biden probe.

And in addition to taking aim at Biden, some key Republicans are pushing the House to take up a symbolic effort to clear Trump’s name, in just another example of how Republicans are using their power to run defense for Trump. Last week, Greene and House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik introduced a pair of resolutions to expunge both of Trump’s impeachments – something McCarthy also said he supports.

“It is past time to expunge Democrats’ sham smear against not only President Trump’s name, but against millions of patriots across the country,” Stefanik said in a statement.

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