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McCarthy's impeachment inquiry: What is it and what does it mean for Biden?

President Joe Biden speaks during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, at Camp David, the presidential retreat, near Thurmont, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
President Joe Biden speaks during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, at Camp David, the presidential retreat, near Thurmont, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., just called for a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden over his family’s business dealings.

Since House Republicans gained the majority in the chamber last year, they have been investigating Biden’s son, Hunter’s, meetings with and payments from several foreign sources.

They have yet to produce any direct evidence showing the president knew about this money, received it or helped solicit it.

Yet, McCarthy said his colleagues have “uncovered serious and credible allegations” into Biden’s conduct.

“These are allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption,” he said. “They warrant further investigation by the House of Representatives.”

Here’s a look at what this impeachment inquiry means for Congress and what it could mean for the commander in chief.


Impeachment is a political process outlined in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, where any civil officer, including a president and vice president, can be removed from office “for, and conviction of, treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

There’s no strict definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” As Gerald Ford famously said before becoming president, “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

In other words, it’s ultimately up to Congress to decide. Legal scholars argue there’s a certain standard for an impeachable offense, that lawmakers can’t just pull things out of thin air, but none is officially written.

The House of Representatives has the sole power to impeach a federal official; the Senate has the sole power to convict and remove the official.

Impeachment inquiry

Since the sole power to impeach belongs to the House, that’s where the process begins. Any House member can suggest launching an impeachment proceeding. If the House Speaker agrees, he or she decides whether or not to proceed with an impeachment inquiry – which McCarthy just did.

There doesn’t have to be a vote on launching an inquiry or any amount of evidence to proceed. This part is garnering controversy among the current chamber, since McCarthy said earlier this month he wouldn’t launch an inquiry without a full House vote. Now, he’s doing just that.

Critics say this flip flop could be because McCarthy knows he doesn’t have enough support among his party to launch this effort, due to the current lack of evidence.

Once he decided to call for an inquiry, McCarthy had to decide who should handle the inquiry – the House Judiciary Committee or a separate special committee. In this case, he chose internally: House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith, R-Mo.

Because McCarthy assigned the investigation internally, there’s no time limit on it.

The inquiry strengthens the House’s investigative powers considerably. The framers of the Constitution said because the House’s function in impeachment is judicial in nature, it’s implied that lawmakers have the same authority to obtain evidence as enjoyed by a court.

This includes subpoena and deposition authority and the power to gather information in foreign countries, which could prove valuable in this specific inquiry, because the money allegedly came from foreign entities.

An inquiry is not a required step in the impeachment process, but no one has been impeached by the House without one except for the second impeachment of former President Donald Trump in 2021.

House impeachment vote

Once the inquiry has concluded and if the committee feels they have enough evidence to move forward, the committee chair will then schedule a meeting to consider the articles of impeachment, commonly called a “markup.”

A simple majority of the committee has to vote in favor of articles of impeachment so they can proceed to a full vote by the House. In this case, that means most House Republicans have to agree the evidence amounts to at least one impeachable offense. There’s always a chance this may not happen, considering some House Republicans are already skeptical of evidence.

But if Republicans do band together and vote in favor of proceeding to a full vote, each article then gets a vote in the full House, and if any of them get a simple majority vote, the House will have impeached the president.

Senate removal

After that, the case would go to the Senate, which holds a trial. A two-thirds majority has to find the person guilty to remove him or her from office.

That’s the limit of the Senate’s power – it can remove the individual from his or her post, but it can’t send anyone to jail.

Congress has impeached and removed eight federal officials (all federal judges), and the House has impeached four U.S. presidents.

But, no U.S. president has ever been found guilty during a Senate impeachment trial. Every trial has ended in an acquittal.

This means there’s no precedent where the vice president or anyone else in the line of succession has taken over after a removal.

So, if Biden were to be impeached by the House and removed by the Senate, it would be a historical first.

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