WASHINGTON — The White House has stood up a war room of two dozen lawyers, legislative aides and communications staffers to lead an aggressive response to a likely Republican impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, a White House aide familiar with the strategy said.
The effort, as described by eight people familiar with the plans, has been taking shape for months in the White House counsel’s office as part of the response to Republican-led House investigations. Biden's aides and allies say they are preparing to vigorously push back against an impeachment inquiry and present it as an evidence-free partisan sham that shows a GOP penchant for chaos.
“Comparing this to past impeachments isn’t apples to apples or even apples to oranges; it’s apples to elephants,” the White House aide said. “Never in modern history has an impeachment been based on no evidence whatsoever.”
The White House began preparing for impeachment on the first day of the new House majority this year. But now, as Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., calls an impeachment inquiry a “natural step forward,” White House aides have spent the August recess researching GOP statements and fine-tuning a message and a response team, a source familiar with the strategy said.
House Republicans have said they would focus their inquiry on alleged criminal activity by Biden’s son Hunter Biden as part of his foreign business dealings. It would also delve into so-far-unproven claims that Joe Biden engaged in bribery, corruption or otherwise abused his power to help enrich his son while he was vice president. The push comes as even some in the House GOP concede they don't have proof of wrongdoing by the president.
Still, McCarthy insisted there is “a culture of corruption that’s been happening within the entire Biden family.”
“If you look at all the information we’ve been able to gather so far, it is a natural step forward that you would have to go to an impeachment inquiry,” McCarthy said Sunday in a Fox News interview. “That provides Congress the apex of legal power to get all the information they need.”
Biden aides have looked to 1998, when the House impeached President Bill Clinton, as a model for how to mount an effective defense — and make the GOP pay a political price for overreaching — said a source familiar with the strategy.
Clinton enjoyed his highest approval rating — 73% — in December 1998 when House Republicans were considering articles of impeachment, according to the Gallup Poll’s historical data of Clinton’s presidency. Biden’s predecessor and potential 2024 election opponent, former President Donald Trump, similarly got a boost around his first of two impeachments. Trump had the highest approval rating of his presidency — 47% — in February 2020 as the Senate prepared to acquit him. The House impeached Trump a second time after he left office for his actions on Jan. 6, 2021.
The Biden White House’s response unit includes defense attorney Richard Sauber and Russ Anello, the former staff director of the House Oversight Committee. Its public face is the sharp-elbowed communications operative and presidential campaign veteran Ian Sams, who frequently attacks Republican claims on social media, and the pro-Biden group Building Back Together’s former communications director Sharon Yang. It also will soon add incoming White House counsel Ed Siskel, who worked in the Obama-era White House counsel’s office and dealt with GOP probes.
The Biden team’s war room is structured to wall off impeachment and other Republican-led investigations from the broader White House to help allow other administration officials to focus on governing without getting “bogged down in the minutia of ongoing investigations,” as a White House aide described it.
Numerous House Republicans in McCarthy’s slim majority say they’re skeptical of launching an impeachment inquiry, citing a lack of evidence. They include some of the 18 lawmakers in districts that voted for Biden and center-right members who say they’d rather focus on governing.
That hesitancy, coupled with what Republicans say an impeachment inquiry would be, has led Biden officials to believe they’re even better positioned to win the battle of public opinion than Clinton, who was impeached after he was caught lying about having had an affair with a former White House intern. Trump was impeached first on accusations that he abused his power by threatening to withhold aid to Ukraine unless the government in Kyiv investigated his re-election opponent — Biden — and his family. His second impeachment focused on his actions during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
A person familiar with the Biden campaign’s thinking said a GOP impeachment inquiry under consideration now is “not an evidence-based effort; it’s an election-focused effort.”
If Republicans follow through with threats of an impeachment inquiry in the coming weeks or months, the White House plans to try to present a split-screen in which the president is focused on economic issues that affect people’s lives. The goal is to cast the GOP as “out of touch,” a White House official said, as it eyes impeachment and a spending fight that could lead to a government shutdown. The official added that an impeachment inquiry and a government shutdown could coincide and that the White House and its Democratic allies will aim to project those developments as instability and chaos caused by the House majority.
A source close to the White House who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly said: “I wouldn’t say anybody here is rooting for that to happen, like, ‘Please impeach, because this is going to help us.’ But if they do it, if they go through with it, I think there are going to be political ramifications for the Republican Party.”
After Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., said Thursday she won’t vote to fund the government unless the House votes to launch an impeachment inquiry, White House spokesman Andrew Bates swiftly responded in a statement that such a move would mean the GOP had “caved to the hardcore fringe of their party in prioritizing a baseless impeachment stunt over high stakes needs Americans care about deeply,” like fighting fentanyl trafficking and funding the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The White House has strategized to get help from House Democrats, staying in regular contact with Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., as well as outside groups. Biden’s re-election campaign is highlighting the role of Trump, who is the 2024 Republican primary front-runner, in driving the impeachment effort. The Congressional Integrity Project, a Democratic group, also is coordinating a response from the outside, tracking GOP statements and seeking to amplify party divisions and unease with impeachment, particularly among politically vulnerable members in Biden-won districts.
The Congressional Integrity Project added firepower ahead of a possible impeachment by tapping recently departed White House official Kate Berner as an adviser to help coordinate the response.
The group is commissioning polls and looking at political ads to bolster the defense — and promote message discipline among Democrats.
“Eight months of partisan investigations have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing by President Biden,” Executive Director Kyle Herrig said. “If the House GOP wants to follow their MAGA right’s demands to pursue these bogus political stunts, CIP will be prepared with a unified opposition backed up by facts, mountains of evidence and a public exhausted with their grandstanding.”