WASHINGTON — House Republicans' majority will be smaller than expected, but they're eager to use their new oversight powers and pass a spate of bills to draw contrasts with Democrats and give the Biden administration heartburn.
In this moment of divided government and fierce partisanship, it’s perhaps appropriate that the GOP conference is expected to be led by Reps. Kevin McCarthy of California and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, veteran lawmakers known more for their skills in political combat than for their policy acumen.
Although House Republicans will still face a Democratic White House and Senate aimed at blocking their legislative aims, McCarthy — who is working feverishly to cement his ascension to speaker despite growing discontent in his ranks — has already made it clear the party plans to launch investigations into the Biden administration and at least one of the president’s family members.
But McCarthy and other leaders will have their hands full as they try to keep their wafer-thin majority united and corral conservative bomb throwers who are clamoring to shut down the government and impeach President Joe Biden and his top allies.
"The era of one-party Democrat rule in Washington is over. Washington now has a check and balance. The American people have a say in their government," McCarthy, flanked by his new leadership team, said Tuesday after he won his race to be the party's nominee for speaker.
Here’s what the new 118th Congress will look like under House GOP rule:
Investigations will dominate the new Congress, from the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic and allegations of politicization at the Justice Department to America's botched withdrawal from Afghanistan. But none will attract as much attention as the GOP’s planned investigation into the business dealings of the president’s son Hunter two years before a potential Biden re-election bid.
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the incoming Oversight Committee chairman, has said an investigation into Hunter Biden and other Biden family members and associates will be a priority as Republicans try to determine whether the family’s business activities “compromise U.S. national security and President Biden’s ability to lead with impartiality.”
Republicans allege that Hunter Biden has used his father’s successful political career to enrich himself: He joined the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company in 2019, and an investment firm he co-founded helped a Chinese firm buy a Congolese cobalt mine from a U.S. company in 2016, among other financial endeavors.
“Hunter and other members of the Biden family have a pattern of peddling access to the highest levels of government to enrich themselves,” Comer said in a statement. “The American people deserve to know whether the President’s connections to his family’s business deals occurred at the expense of American interests and whether they represent a national security threat.”
At a press conference Thursday Comer and other House Republicans made clear that their investigation is focused on the sitting president.
"We want the bank records and that’s our focus," Comer said. "We’re trying to stay focused on: Was Joe Biden directly involved with Hunter Biden’s business deals and is he compromised? That’s our investigation."
The younger Biden is already under federal investigation, which he has said will show “I handled my affairs legally and appropriately.”
Comer and Senate Republicans, including Rand Paul of Kentucky, also vow to investigate Dr. Anthony Fauci, the retiring director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who became the face of the government's response to Covid-19 — and a target of the right.Another big thorn in the Biden administration’s side: Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a Trump loyalist and former leader of the far-right Freedom Caucus who is poised to chair the powerful Judiciary Committee and will be itching to haul Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray to Capitol Hill.
In a letter to Garland this month, Jordan previewed some of his potential investigations next year, urging the Justice Department to preserve records related to its probe of the conservative group Project Veritas and how it obtained a copy of the diary of the president’s daughter Ashley Biden, the shuttering of the Justice Department’s Trump-era program targeting Chinese spying and the FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in August.
A fierce critic of the Justice Department under Biden, Jordan also rolled out a 1,000-page report on allegations of politicization of the Justice Department and the FBI based on interviews with FBI whistleblowers.
While the House Jan. 6 committee, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., launched in the wake of the Capitol attack, will disband at the end of this Congress, Republicans have their own ideas for select House committees in the new year. McCarthy has vowed to create a select committee to investigate China. And many other GOP members want to form a special panel to investigate the Biden administration’s chaotic and deadly withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan; a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport killed 13 service members and scores of Afghans.
“If there was one that I would say 100% needs to happen as a select committee, it’s got to be Afghanistan,” said Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., a member of the Homeland Security Committee who is expected to run for a leadership spot. “When you look at the 13 Gold Star families that never should have been Gold Star families — for them alone, they deserve answers.
“But for the equipment that got left behind, the Americans that got left behind, the families of those that we lost,” she said, “there’s a lot of answers that need to be uncovered.”
After House Democrats impeached President Donald Trump twice, some of his staunch allies in Congress are looking for payback. Far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., has filed multiple articles of impeachment against Biden and Garland this Congress, although McCarthy said that so far he hasn’t seen anything that rises to the level of impeachment.
However, that’s not expected to satisfy those on his right flank. A growing number of Republicans say they have their sights set on impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, bashing his handling of the border surge. In fiscal year 2022, there were a record 2.76 million undocumented immigrant crossings, 1 million more than in the previous year, according to Customs and Border Protection data. Mayorkas has defended the administration’s border policies.
“He is ignoring his duty to execute the laws of the United States to secure the border," said Republican Chip Roy, a member of the House Judiciary Committee who represents the border state of Texas. "And as a direct consequence of that, Americans are dead, migrants are dead, China’s empowered, cartels are empowered, fentanyl is pouring into our communities.
“He knows it," Roy said. "He’s lying about it. He should be impeached for it. It’s a dereliction of duty. It’s not even a close call.”
DHS spokesman Luis Miranda responded to GOP calls for Mayorkas' impeachment in an email: “Many of those criticisms are coming from Members of Congress who voted against the funding DHS needs to do its job, and who oppose the kind of comprehensive reform needed to create lawful pathways and update our immigration system.”
Roy, a member of the Trump-aligned Freedom Caucus, said that he believes Biden has engaged in conduct that has damaged America but that he will “reserve judgment” on whether he should be impeached.
Democrats still occupy the White House, so any legislation Republicans pass on a partisan basis won’t be signed into law by Biden. But House Republicans say they will waste no time showing the parties’ stark differences as they battle for control of the White House in 2024.
McCarthy has said that when the new Congress is seated on Jan. 3, House Republicans will immediately vote to repeal the $80 billion in new funding for the IRS that was included in Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act to help crack down on tax cheats and ramp up enforcement.
“That very first day, we’ll repeal these new 87,000 IRS agents. I think government should be here to help you, not to go after you,” McCarthy said last week on Fox Business.
After the “Commitment to America” agenda McCarthy laid out in September, Republicans also plan to pass a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” that would give parents more say in the curricula that are taught in their children’s schools, boost domestic oil and natural gas production and cut the permitting process to address high energy and gas prices, and provide funding for more police officers and border security in response to rising crime rates.
“We’re going to get after it on Day One,” Cammack said. “And it’s going to almost feel like whiplash to our Democratic colleagues, where we’ve seen this very weird, slow, lackadaisical approach to legislation.”
Still, such a narrow majority means McCarthy will have little margin for error, and rabble-rousers like Greene who have shown little deference to GOP leadership in the past could have outsize influence in what the caucus is able to pass through the House.
Spending and debt
In their successful 2022 campaign, Republicans argued that record inflation was being driven by trillions of dollars in government spending that Democrats were pumping into the economy; Democrats have claimed inflation is a “global phenomenon” spurred by the pandemic.
Now in power, Republicans vow to hold hearings on the causes of the inflation spike and to deeply cut spending to help curb the country’s record debt.
“Americans are paying for this debt every time they go to the store or fill up the gas tank,” said Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, the top Republican on the Budget Committee, who is running to be chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. “It’s eating away their paychecks, and it’s because Democrats have abandoned basic budgeting and oversight. Republicans will restore both.”
To achieve their spending goals, some Republicans have gone so far as to say they won’t support additional military aid for Ukraine next year until some domestic issues are addressed. Other top Republicans are threatening to block raising the country’s debt borrowing limit to force Biden and Democrats to overhaul costly entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.
Defaulting on the debt, however, could spook global markets and send the U.S. economy into a recession. So could a government shutdown, which Greene and other far-right lawmakers have threatened in recent days.
Smith said in an interview, “As it relates to the debt ceiling, Americans rightly expect that their elected officials will use every tool we have to fix whatever crises the country faces — whether it’s the spike in prices, an unsecured border, rising debt, you name it.
“Republicans will use every tool we have to bring relief to Americans and put the country back on the right track.”