(Bloomberg) -- The House Republican investigation into the financial dealings of President Joe Biden’s family risks turning off more voters than it attracts.
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The Biden-centric investigation led by the Oversight and Accountability Committee kicks off Wednesday morning, just hours after the president delivers his State of the Union address to Congress. At the center of the probe is the contents of the laptop of Biden’s son Hunter — a topic that’s been a far-right preoccupation since 2020.
Yet a series of recent polls show the majority of Americans just aren’t that interested in what may or may not be on Hunter Biden’s hard drive.
Democrats will seek to paint the inquiry as time-consuming political retribution that diverts attention from the approaching debt crisis and other problems.
Polling released last week by the Pew Research Center showed that as clashes over the debt ceiling and other key issues intensify, 65% of American adults surveyed said they are concerned Republicans would focus too much on investigating the Biden administration. A CNN poll released Jan. 26 found that 73% of American adults think House Republicans haven’t paid enough attention to the country’s most pressing problems.
“The Republican majority in Congress has to make sure that they don’t get branded as the party that only cares about investigations. Voters elected them to address other concerns, including the economy,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections.
Still, Republicans are moving ahead with what Oversight Chairman James Comer calls his panel’s first hearing into “the Biden corruption.” Comer also says his goal is to find a bipartisan solution to Washington influence peddling.
The Kentucky Republican is hardly the most iconoclastic member of the House GOP, but the panel is stacked with outspoken colleagues like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, Jim Jordan and Lauren Boebert who are known more for partisan vitriol than policy.
The Oversight panel’s top Democrat, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, described Comer as being “on the more thoughtful and reasonable side” of his party.
But Raskin, the lead manager for President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, also said he recognizes Comer must operate within Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s commitments to “right-wing extremists.” And he says any effort focusing solely on alleged influence peddling or business dealings of Biden family members, and not on Trump’s, would be a “hatchet job” that Democrats are prepared to counter.
Hunter Biden’s work with foreign entities, including in Ukraine while his father was vice president, has drawn interest for years. He also has been under federal investigation since 2018 for tax affairs tied to his overseas activities. The president has denied knowledge of, or involvement in, his son’s business dealings.
The Wednesday hearing will address alleged collusion by the FBI with Twitter Inc., and other technology giants to censor news reporting before the 2020 presidential election about the laptop’s contents, Biden family “shady business schemes,” and influence peddling. Three former Twitter executives are expected to testify.
At the same time, Jordan, who chairs the Judiciary committee, and Intelligence Chairman Mike Turner sent letters on Monday to 12 former US intelligence officials that suggested those panels are also looking into the matter. The letters to former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and others, seek transcribed interviews and other information explaining their involvement in an October 2020 statement that implied reporting about Hunter Biden was the product of Russian disinformation.
Some critics of the inquiry see similarities to the drawn-out Benghazi hearings that stirred up controversy around Hillary Clinton before her 2016 presidential campaign. Republicans portrayed that investigation as a sober look at security lapses that led to the 2012 terrorist attacks on the US compound and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya. The investigation ultimately did not blame Clinton, but it might have played a factor in her narrow loss to Trump in 2016.
Thomas Mann, a government expert at the Brookings Institution, called Comer’s investigation, along with those of some other committees, “transparently political in the same fashion as the Benghazi hearings and will likely reinforce the reputation of House Republicans as having no agenda beyond ‘Getting the libs.’”
Comer dismisses criticism he is reviving a Benghazi-type strategy designed to injure Biden politically before the 2024 elections, saying “I’m not dusting off any old playbook.”
Yet in a late January interview on Bloomberg TV’s “Balance of Power With David Westin,” he did acknowledge that his “committee is going to get a lot of media attention, if for no other reason because we have so many firebrands on both sides of the aisle.”
Democrats have seated Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Katie Porter of California on the panel. Dan Goldman, a New York freshman who served as counsel during Trump’s first impeachment trial, is also on the committee.
As Ocasio-Cortez sees it, Republicans are “weaponizing” a congressional committee to attack a private citizen in its focus on Hunter Biden. “And I think it’s especially atrocious given that this was a person who has been open about struggling with substance misuse and it’s just a horrifying thing to do.”
Rice University political scientist Paul Brace said some might see this as digging into family challenges faced by the president — “some heart-rending, some embarrassing.” Others, he added, think of it as necessary scrutiny of “a Washington insider of 50 plus years perhaps capable of trading position for family benefits, protected by mainstream media from accountability.”
“The GOP will, I believe, expend extraordinary resources looking for dots to connect,” Brace said.
--With assistance from Steven T. Dennis.
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