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Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, has launched an impeachment inquiry into US president Joe Biden, in a move that will further raise political tensions in the world’s largest economy.
McCarthy’s announcement came on Tuesday after mounting pressure from allies of Donald Trump within the party to target Biden more aggressively, even as some Republicans said the move could backfire with moderate and swing voters.
Speaking to reporters, McCarthy said the US president had lied “to the American people about his own knowledge of his family’s business dealings”.
“These are allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption,” McCarthy said.
He added that the inquiry would be led by James Comer, chair of the House oversight committee, and Jim Jordan, chair of the House judiciary committee, who have both been leading probes into the business dealings of Hunter Biden, the president’s son.
Impeachment proceedings in the House and a possible trial in the Senate could dominate the political agenda and consume the White House for weeks, taking attention from Trump’s criminal indictments as he runs for the presidency again in 2024.
The White House has repeatedly denied any allegations of wrongdoing. Many Democrats see the move as a thinly veiled attempt to get revenge for the two impeachments levelled against Trump for his conduct as president, as well as the multiple criminal indictments he is facing.
“House Republicans have been investigating the President for nine months, and they’ve turned up no evidence of wrongdoing,” a White House spokesperson said, adding: “Extreme politics at its worst.”
A possible impeachment by the House, where the Republicans hold a wafer-thin majority, would be the third such censure of a president in less than five years, a mark of the growing polarisation of US politics. Since the founding of the republic, presidents have only been impeached four times — and none has been convicted.
Trump was acquitted by the Senate following his own impeachments by the House, in 2021 and 2019. Before him, Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, in an indication of heightened tensions between Republicans and Democrats. The only previous president to be so sanctioned was Andrew Johnson in the 1860s.
The key element Republicans will try now to prove is that Biden was directly involved in securing business deals for his son over the years, even though so far they have failed to offer evidence of such actions.
Trump has been urging McCarthy to open impeachment proceedings against Biden, as he tries to portray the president as “crooked” in the same way that he did Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.
But some Republicans have been uneasy about the Biden impeachment probe.
“We can waste our time on issues that are not important, or we can focus on issues that are,” Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican, told MSNBC on Sunday. Buck noted how difficult it would be for any impeachment of Biden to be followed by a conviction in the Democrat-controlled Senate, which would require a supermajority of votes.
The opening of the impeachment probe comes a few weeks before the September 30 deadline for Congress to approve funding for the government or face a shutdown of many federal operations and offices. Some Republicans had threatened to vote against funding for the government unless McCarthy proceeded with an impeachment inquiry.
McCarthy only won election to the Speakership at the 15th round of voting this year after finally winning round the right flank of the party with a series of concessions.
Those included backing a rule to allow any single member of Congress to trigger a vote of no confidence in him or any future Speaker.