Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday directed top congressional Republicans to open an impeachment inquiry into President Biden, blowing past G.O.P. divisions as he worked to appease far-right lawmakers who have threatened to oust him amid a pitched fight over spending.
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.
“Today I am directing our House committees to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters gathered outside his office at the Capitol.
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 no longer must justify their investigation as part of their legislative work, Mr. McCarthy’s allies have said.
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 opened with a vote of the full House. The House subsequently 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 lacks the numbers to do so amid G.O.P. divisions. 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, the president’s son who engaged in transactions with overseas firms, to his father, or uncover evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors.
After months of digging, Republicans have found no such proof, though they argue they have received enough information to warrant more investigation.
In brief remarks at the Capitol, Mr. McCarthy accused Mr. Biden of lying about his knowledge of his son’s business dealings, and he raised questions about the millions Hunter Biden and other family members made from overseas firms. Mr. McCarthy also accused the Biden administration of giving his son Hunter “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.”
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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. It came as Mr. McCarthy is under intense pressure from his right flank.
In a statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, Ian Sams, a White House spokesman, rebuked the speaker 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.”
Nor did Mr. McCarthy’s announcement quell critics in his own party, who accused him of making the announcement simply because he was worried he was on the brink of losing power. Representative Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican and frequent critic of the speaker, said that Mr. McCarthy’s talk of impeachment so far has been a “slow boat to China.”
He added that if Mr. McCarthy were “serious about holding the Biden crime family accountable, we wouldn’t have some rushed, rattled statement; we would have a subpoena strategy that would reflect seriousness.”
Mr. Gaetz on Tuesday took to the floor to outline an arch-conservative case against Mr. McCarthy, saying the speaker was “out of compliance” with the power-sharing agreement he made with the far right to procure his post in January. Mr. Gaetz stopped just short of calling to oust Mr. McCarthy immediately. But he said he planned to do so if Mr. McCarthy introduced a bill to temporarily fund the government, something that must happen within weeks to avert a federal shutdown.
Mr. Gaetz told reporters on a telephone call that he intended to regularly force snap votes to remove the speaker, 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.”
Democrats have been readying their defenses of the president. Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland huddled with members of his committee 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, has 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.”
Annie Karni and Erica L. Green contributed reporting.
Luke Broadwater covers Congress. He was the lead reporter on a series of investigative articles at The Baltimore Sun that won a Pulitzer Prize and a George Polk Award in 2020. More about Luke Broadwater