By Melanie Zanona and Manu Raju, CNN
Updated: Thu, 13 Jan 2022 16:53:20 GMT
Members of the far right are already agitating to launch impeachment proceedings against President Joe Biden if the GOP is in power in Congress next year. Some leading Republicans want to spotlight former President Donald Trump's false claims of voter fraud. And key House and Senate Republicans are vowing to probe the security failures surrounding last year's January 6 attack on the US Capitol -- and turn the attention to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
With Republicans on the cusp of taking back the House and Senate, the GOP is plotting an onslaught of investigations into the Biden administration and promising to make the final two years of Biden's first term in office as painful as possible for Democrats in the run-up to 2024. Those headaches could come in the form of subpoenas, the possible creation of select committees and high-profile hearings on issues ranging from the origins of the coronavirus pandemic to hearing from the President's son, Hunter.
Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, said he fully anticipates that Hunter Biden will testify before the committee if Republicans are in charge.
"We have a lot of questions about where he gets his money, from his artwork, and from his consulting deals," Comer told CNN.
The probes won't stop there.
Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, pledged to subpoena communications from the sergeant-at-arms about security decisions in the lead-up to the deadly Capitol riot should he be in charge of the panel next year.
"We'll find out what went wrong leading up to January 6 with security posture, and most importantly, we'll exercise oversight responsibility to make sure that we are in a better position," Davis told CNN.
And Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who could be in line to chair a key subcommittee if the GOP is in power, echoed a similar sentiment.
"There's a larger story to be told about January 6. The House committee's not interested in looking at it. I mean they're not asking what Nancy Pelosi knew, when she knew it," Johnson said, even though Pelosi does not oversee the day-to-day operations of the Capitol Police. "So, yeah, I think the American public needs a full accounting."
Johnson, who has downplayed Trump's role in the attack, said: "My questions by and large have not been answered."
While the party has been mostly eager to move past the deadly events of last January 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election, there's been a growing desire in the party to use its potential congressional majorities next year to fight back against the Democratic effort to probe January 6 -- and try to create a whole new narrative over the insurrection. That fight escalated on Wednesday when committee members asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to voluntarily meet and provide information about his communications with Trump.
When they were in charge of Congress during Trump's first two years in office, Republicans often turned a blind eye to the then-President's controversies and scandals. But with the power to investigate a Democratic President, no controversy will be left unnoticed.
There are likely to be points of tension within the GOP conference.
While the GOP push to probe January 6 security failures has the blessing of Republican leadership, it's uncertain whether the leaders would be willing to investigate Trump's conspiracies about the 2020 election, even though some Republicans -- including Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who is poised to chair the powerful House Judiciary Committee in a GOP-led House -- want a probe.
"We've called for that for a long time," Jordan said of an investigation into the 2020 election.
GOP leaders, however, say such decisions have yet to be made.
"We haven't rolled out what that agenda would be," said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. "Ultimately, you know, we've got to work to get the majority back. ... And then we got to start having accountability. We need oversight."
Launching an all-out assault on Biden also risks backfiring for a GOP majority if it is perceived by voters as overreaching.
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a GOP member of the January 6 committee who is on the outs with her conference over her battles with Trump, rejected the calls to investigate the 2020 election.
"We need to go forward recognizing the damage that the big lie has done," Cheney told CNN. "As Republicans, we ought to be in a position where we're actually learning the lesson of why Donald Trump lost the White House, lost the Senate and lost the House as well, while he was in office, so that we can learn from that and do better."
If they're in charge, Republican leaders will also have to contend with a growing push from their right flank to initiate impeachment proceedings against Biden, which GOP leaders have so far declined to embrace. Freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the controversial firebrand from Georgia, has already introduced numerous bills to impeach Biden and accuse him of high crimes and misdemeanors.
"I believe Joe Biden has intentionally done more to harm the country than any president in American history with the border situation," said freshman Rep. Bob Good of Virginia, a member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus. "He deserves to be impeached for that alone, let alone anything else."
A politically charged House
With the GOP in a strong position heading into the midterm election year, Republicans have already begun to map out how they would wield committee gavels and the subpoena power that comes along with it.
Besides the January 6 security failures, other top investigative targets on the GOP's list include Biden's chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal; the surge of migrants at the border; Hunter Biden's art shows and his work in Ukraine; and the origins of the coronavirus and Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Meanwhile, McCarthy has vowed to boot Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both from California, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from key committee assignments if Republicans win back the House, citing the "new standard" that Democrats created last year by removing Greene and GOP Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona from their committee assignments for inflammatory rhetoric and posts.
The GOP's promise of intense oversight -- combined with threats of retaliation against some Democratic colleagues -- offers an early glimpse of the politically charged atmosphere that would likely dominate a divided Washington. And it could complicate efforts between the parties to come together on must-pass legislative items, like government funding.
"There'll be a lot of pretty aggressive oversight. Look, there's not been much now. And I get it. There wasn't too much oversight, probably, when Trump was there, and we controlled (the House). That's just a natural rhythm of politics," said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the House Rules Committee. "But, yeah, there's going to be a demand for it. My gosh, they've gotten away with murder here."
Comer, the likely next chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is also interested in looking into the origins of the coronavirus as well as the botched Afghanistan pullout -- and has already made document preservation requests on both fronts.
"I'm not going to abuse the subpoena power, but we will use the subpoena power if we feel we have a good case, and we have someone who is not cooperating," he said.
Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has also made Afghanistan a top priority and already started probing the issue. McCaul hired an investigator last year and made document preservation requests, but he would have far stronger tools to conduct oversight if his party were in power. McCaul is also interested in bringing back an oversight subcommittee to the Foreign Affairs panel.
"My role is to ensure that it doesn't get swept under the rug, and we are mindful that's not punitive, but rather we have to get this right," said McCaul, who already released a report on the origins of Covid-19 and is planning to release a report on Afghanistan next month.
Revisiting the 2020 election will also become a focal point among some Republicans, though the GOP is not united on how to dig into Trump's lies over a stolen election.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who would chair the Senate Judiciary Committee in a GOP majority, said when asked if there should be a probe of the 2020 election: "I think you got to look to the future and make sure that the election laws are working in 2024."
Jordan, a bomb-thrower who once served on the Benghazi select committee, said he would use a potential Judiciary gavel to target Covid, Fauci, education issues, crime and the border. He also signaled support for looking into the 2020 election, a sentiment shared by his fellow Freedom Caucus members.
"Election integrity, and things that have been changed regarding the pandemic, that's an important oversight task or subject," said Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, whose cooperation is also being sought by the January 6 select committee. "So, yeah, I think that that would be germane."
Yet both Perry and Jordan have declined to cooperate with the January 6 committee over their communications with the former President and his team in the days leading up to and during the riot.
Asked about her views of Jordan wielding a gavel in a GOP majority, Cheney said the Ohio Republican should worry about the situation before him now.
"I think that Mr. Jordan's focus right now ought to be on fulfilling his duties and obligations and coming, appearing in front of the select committee and providing the information that he has as a material witness in discussions that he had on January 6, with Donald Trump and in the activities he was engaged in, in the planning leading up to it," Cheney said.