McCarthy, Under Threat From Right, Orders Biden Impeachment Inquiry

Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday opened an impeachment inquiry into President Biden, working to appease far-right lawmakers who have threatened to oust him if he fails to accede to their demands for deep spending cuts that would force a government shutdown at the end of the month.

Mr. McCarthy’s decision to unilaterally announce an impeachment investigation with no formal House vote entwined the Republican investigations into Mr. Biden with the funding fight that is rattling the Capitol. It appeared to be a bid to quell a brewing rebellion among ultraconservative critics who have accused the speaker of not taking a hard enough line on spending, by complying with their demands to more aggressively pursue the president.

Mr. McCarthy said he would task three committees — Oversight, Judiciary, and Ways and Means — with carrying out the inquiry into the president and his family as Republicans hunt for evidence of financial wrongdoing or corruption. After months of digging, Republicans have found no such proof, though they argue they have enough information to warrant more investigation.

Mr. McCarthy’s announcement appeared to clear the way for House investigators to issue subpoenas for the bank records of Mr. Biden and his family members.

In brief remarks at the Capitol, Mr. McCarthy accused Mr. Biden of lying about his knowledge of his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings, and he raised questions about the millions that Hunter and other family members made from overseas firms. Mr. McCarthy also accused the Biden administration of giving the president’s son “special treatment” in a criminal tax investigation against him.

“House Republicans have uncovered serious and credible allegations into President Biden’s conduct,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Taken together, these allegations paint a picture of a culture of corruption.”

Mr. McCarthy has signaled for weeks that he supports an impeachment inquiry of the president to give congressional investigators more power to dig into Mr. Biden’s family finances. Starting such an inquiry means that Republicans must no longer justify their investigation as part of their legislative work and will have broad powers to request documents and testimony, with the ultimate goal of producing one or more articles of impeachment against the president accusing him of high crimes and misdemeanors.

But Tuesday’s move was a break with the past and a major change in strategy for Mr. McCarthy, who previously indicated that he believed the full House should vote on whether to move forward with an impeachment inquiry. Two presidential impeachment inquiries in modern history, of Bill Clinton in 1998 and Donald J. Trump in 2019, were endorsed with votes of the full House, though Democrats had announced several weeks earlier that they were beginning a formal investigation into Mr. Trump. The House impeached Mr. Trump a second time in 2021 without an inquiry, just days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The apparent decision not to seek a vote was a tacit acknowledgment by Mr. McCarthy that he lacked the numbers to do so amid G.O.P. divisions. Hard-right Republicans who remain loyal to Mr. Trump and bent on exacting revenge for his impeachment and the raft of criminal prosecutions he is facing are pressing hard for the move.

But several Republicans, including those from districts Mr. Biden won, have indicated they did not support an impeachment inquiry unless investigators could tie the business dealings of Hunter Biden, who engaged in transactions with overseas firms, to his father, or uncover evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors.

In a statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, Ian Sams, a White House spokesman, rebuked Mr. McCarthy for engaging in what he called “extreme politics at its worst.”

“House Republicans have been investigating the President for 9 months, and they’ve turned up no evidence of wrongdoing,” Mr. Sams wrote. “His own GOP members have said so. He vowed to hold a vote to open impeachment, now he flip flopped because he doesn’t have support.”

Mr. McCarthy scheduled his announcement hastily after Representative Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican and frequent critic of the speaker, gave word on Monday night that he would be giving a speech on the House floor attacking Mr. McCarthy and making the case for his ouster. Minutes after Mr. McCarthy spoke on Tuesday, Mr. Gaetz did just that, saying the speaker had reneged on promises he had made to right-wing lawmakers in return for their votes during his prolonged battle to win his post.

“I rise today to serve notice, Mr. Speaker, that you are out of compliance with the agreement that allowed you to assume this role,” Mr. Gaetz said, castigating Mr. McCarthy for cutting a spending deal with Mr. Biden this year to suspend the debt limit and failing to hold votes on term limits and a balanced-budget amendment. “The path forward for the House of Representatives is to either bring you into total, immediate compliance or remove you.”

He dismissed Mr. McCarthy’s talk of impeachment as “baby steps” that lacked a serious strategy, and urged Republicans to oppose a stopgap spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, needed to keep the government open past Sept. 30.

“If Kevin McCarthy puts a continuing resolution on the floor, it is going to be shot, chaser, continuing resolution, motion to vacate,” Mr. Gaetz said, referring to the procedural move to oust a speaker.

Mr. Gaetz told reporters on a telephone call that he intended to regularly force snap votes to remove Mr. McCarthy, threatening to make it part of the routine opening of every legislative day in the House: “the prayer, the pledge and the motion to vacate.”

His broadside illustrated the precarious position Mr. McCarthy finds himself in as he seeks to placate his far right while finding some spending accommodation with the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House that avoids a politically dangerous shutdown. The Senate was set on Tuesday to begin working its way through a series of bipartisan spending bills, but with time running short before government funding is exhausted on Sept. 30, House Republicans have managed to pass only one — on a party-line vote — and are in deep turmoil over how to proceed in meeting the basic obligations of the government.

Far-right Republicans were threatening to withhold their votes for any temporary spending bill that would continue spending at current levels, and even a Pentagon spending bill that usually draws bipartisan support was in trouble in the House.

Democrats have been preparing their impeachment defenses of the president. Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, huddled with members of his panel on Sunday night to plan a response to the Republicans.

On Monday, the Democrats released a 14-page memo detailing what they called the “overwhelming failure” of the Republicans’ investigation into Mr. Biden.

The memo noted that the Oversight Committee, led by Representative James R. Comer, Republican of Kentucky, had received more than 12,000 pages of subpoenaed bank records, reviewed more than 2,000 pages of suspicious activity reports and spent hours interviewing witnesses, including two of Hunter Biden’s former business associates. But none of the bank records released so far show any payment to the president.

“Instead of working on legislation to promote the common good or even just keep the government running,” Mr. Raskin said, “House Republicans are weaponizing their offices and exploiting congressional power and resources to promote debunked and outlandish conspiracy theories about President Biden.”

Erica L. Green contributed reporting.