Republican legislators in the United States have opened the first hearing of their impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, promising to delve into allegations of corruption against the Biden family as a government shutdown looms.
As the House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing began on Thursday morning, the Republican chair of the panel, James Comer, said the probe so far “has uncovered a mountain of evidence revealing how Joe Biden has used his public office for his family’s financial gain”.
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“For years, President Biden has lied to the American people about his knowledge of and participation in his family’s corrupt business schemes,” said Comer, referencing allegations that largely centre of the foreign business dealings of Biden’s son, Hunter.
Republicans have sought an investigation into the Biden family’s affairs since the party took control of the House of Representatives at the beginning of the year, but Democrats have slammed the impeachment push as politically motivated and baseless.
The White House also has rejected the corruption allegations, with a spokesman calling the inquiry “extreme politics at its worst”.
Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy directed House committees earlier this month to open the impeachment process, saying investigations up until that point had uncovered a “culture of corruption” around the Biden family.
“These are allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption, and they warrant further investigation by the House of Representatives,” McCarthy told reporters on September 12.
But Democratic Party legislators say the impeachment drive aims to distract from former President Donald Trump’s legal troubles and hurt Biden’s re-election campaign.
Trump faces four separate criminal indictments but remains the frontrunner in the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nomination race, setting up a likely rematch against Biden next year.
“There is zero evidence of wrongdoing whatsoever” against Biden, Representative Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said this month.
The Biden impeachment inquiry comes as McCarthy has faced mounting pressure from the GOP’s right flank to take action against the Democratic president.
At the same time, some House Republicans also have promised to block must-pass funding legislation to keep the federal government working unless deep spending cuts are made.
The US Congress faces a midnight deadline on Saturday (04:00 GMT on Sunday) to pass the funding to avoid being forced to shut down large swaths of the government.
Raskin on Thursday condemned Republicans for continuing with the hearing despite the looming shutdown.
“We’re 62 hours away from shutting down the government of the United States of America and Republicans are launching the impeachment drive, based on a long debunked and discredited lie,” he said during the committee hearing.
Thursday’s hearing is not expected to feature witnesses with information about the Bidens or the business work of the US president’s son, Hunter.
Instead, it will be a soft launch of sorts with testimony from outside experts in tax law, criminal investigations and constitutional legal theory. Lawmakers will hear from a forensic accountant, a former US Department of Justice official and a law professor.
Republicans have accused Biden and his family of personally profiting from policies he pursued as vice president during former President Barack Obama’s administration between 2009 and 2017.
Separately, they also allege the Justice Department interfered with a tax investigation of Hunter Biden.
They have yet to provide any evidence of improper conduct by President Biden.
“House Republicans have been investigating the President for 9 months, and they’ve turned up no evidence of wrongdoing,” White House spokesman Ian Sams wrote on social media earlier this month.
It is unclear if House Republicans, who have a narrow 221-212 majority, would have the votes at the end of the inquiry to support actual impeachment.
But even if that vote succeeded, it is highly unlikely that the Senate, where Democrats hold a 51-49 majority, would vote to remove Biden from office.