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Drama reigns as House GOP targets Mayorkas, Hunter Biden, and can’t adopt rule

Conservative rebellion again stalls action on the House floor

Hunter Biden, center, and his attorney Abbe Lowell, left, address the media after leaving the House Oversight and Accountability Committee markup on Wednesday.
Hunter Biden, center, and his attorney Abbe Lowell, left, address the media after leaving the House Oversight and Accountability Committee markup on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans were pushing ahead Wednesday with impeachment and investigatory spectacles, but legislating was proving more difficult.

Two committees worked on efforts to hold Hunter Biden, the president’s son, in contempt of Congress for failing to appear for a closed-door deposition, while the Homeland Security Committee began to make its case for impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The Oversight and Accountability markup made the most news as Biden upped the game by appearing in person, but the biggest tell about the state of the Republican conference came on the floor, where for the second time since Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., was elected in October, the narrow House GOP majority was unable to muster the votes to adopt a special rule governing this week’s scheduled floor business.

“I’m sorry, are you working on health care or gun violence or reducing some of the other costs that Americans are worried about? No, you’re doing impeachment over in Homeland Security, you’re doing this nonsense here and you just failed to pass your own rule on the floor,” California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell said at the Judiciary Committee’s separate markup on Biden.

The rule would have set the ground rules debating two Congressional Review Act resolutions disapproving rules from the National Labor Relations Board and Federal Highway Administration, as well as a bill related to federal agencies’ role in settlement agreements.

The objections from a dozen conservatives, which kept the rule from advancing on a 203-216 vote, were not over the substance of the legislation, however. Rather, they were lashing out at Johnson over working with Democrats.

Conservatives have been demanding immigration restrictions before they would agree to support spending bills, and have blasted the topline spending limits for fiscal 2024 that Johnson agreed to with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., a former House Freedom Caucus chairman, said the budget deal would allow for more spending than the omnibus package enacted last December under the control of Democrats and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

“We’re funding government above the Pelosi level,” Perry said. “And we’ve got no policy changes for it. Like, why am I for that? I voted against that the December before last, now all of a sudden I’m for it?”

Perry said the situation needs to be “resolved” before he votes for more rules, but he said he wasn’t involved in any effort to oust Johnson. Because of vacancies and the illness of Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., that is keeping him out of Washington, legislation can be defeated if more than two Republicans join every Democrat.

There was no problem mustering votes in committee, however. The Judiciary Committee approved, 23-14, a report for a resolution Wednesday afternoon recommending the House find the president’s son in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with subpoenas late last year. Hours later, the Oversight and Accountability panel took a similar vote by a 25-21 margin.

Biden and attorney Abbe Lowell made a surprise appearance at the Oversight and Accountability Committee, adding to the already significant level of interest in the markup to recommend holding him in contempt for not appearing last month for a closed-door deposition. At that time, he appeared outside at the Senate swamp location instead.

“We will not provide Hunter Biden with special treatment because of his last name,” Oversight and Accountability Chairman James R. Comer said at the Wednesday meeting. “All Americans must be treated equally under the law, and that includes the Bidens.”

The Homeland Security panel, meanwhile, held the first hearing to kick off efforts to impeach Mayorkas, even as the secretary has been a key Biden administration representative in Senate talks on bolstering border security. GOP lawmakers say Mayorkas’ embrace of Biden administration immigration policies, as well as department efforts under his watch to allow in immigrants under programs like humanitarian parole, meet the standard for impeachment.

“Impeachable offenses are not limited to prosecutable crimes,” Chairman Mark E. Green, R-Tenn., said at the hearing. “Rather, the framers of the Constitution understood, and the House of Representatives has consistently concluded, that the impeachment power reaches all manner of gross misconduct in office that does serious harm to the U.S. political system, the U.S. constitutional order, or the people of the country.”

Democrats in Congress and the White House called it a political stunt.

“It is now campaign season and Republicans recently rolled out their impeachment proceedings against the secretary like the pre-planned, predetermined political stunt it is. This is not a legitimate impeachment,” said committee ranking member Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. “Republicans want to throw political red meat to their base and keep that campaign cash coming.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre used a question related to the status of government funding, with looming continuing resolution deadlines on both Jan. 19 and Feb. 2, as an opportunity to criticize the current priorities of the House GOP.

“They need to do their jobs instead of these political stunts. Somebody asked me about the impeachment hearings that are happening … in Congress,” Jean Pierre said. “And the House Republicans right now that are leading that. That is a waste of time, political stunts, baseless — baseless accusations.  And that is not what the American people want to see.”

Caroline Coudriet, David Jordan, David Lerman, Ryan Tarinelli and K. Sophie Will contributed to this report.

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