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From left, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair James Comer, R-Ky., speak to reporters Dec. 13, 2023. (AP) From left, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair James Comer, R-Ky., speak to reporters Dec. 13, 2023. (AP)

From left, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair James Comer, R-Ky., speak to reporters Dec. 13, 2023. (AP)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson December 14, 2023

The U.S House of Representatives voted Dec. 13 to formally authorize an impeachment investigation into President Joe Biden. On party lines, with all Republican and no Democratic support, the measure passed, 221-212. 

The vote did not address the merits of whether Biden should be impeached. Instead, it formalized the House’s decision to undertake an investigation that could lead to Biden’s impeachment next year.

Here’s a recap of where a possible Biden impeachment stands after this vote.

What is being investigated?

House Republicans have been investigating Joe Biden’s son Hunter for months. These efforts have focused on money Hunter received while serving on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company. At the time, Joe Biden was serving as U.S. vice president and helping shape Ukraine policy. Bribery is specifically listed in the Constitution as grounds for impeachment.

House Republicans are also scrutinizing payments overseas entities made to James Biden, the president’s brother; statements the president has made about Hunter Biden’s work; evidence of contact between the president and his son’s business partners; and reimbursements Joe Biden received for loans he made to family members.

So far, none of these inquiries has produced clear evidence of wrongdoing by the president. And the White House has cast the impeachment effort as a way for Republicans to create false equivalence with the four indictments of Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, who is the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Separately, Hunter Biden has been federally indicted on tax and gun charges.

Why did the authorization vote take place now?

Initially it was unclear whether House Republicans could get enough votes to pass a formal impeachment authorization, given the GOP’s narrow majority in the chamber and Democratic opposition.

Seventeen House Republicans who serve in districts that Joe Biden won in 2020, compared with five Democrats who serve in districts Donald Trump won. 

Voting for an impeachment investigation could be politically risky for any of those Republicans. But party leaders appear to have calmed concerns among those members, emphasizing that this is simply a procedural step. 

"As we have said numerous times before, voting in favor of an impeachment inquiry does not equal impeachment," Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., speaking for the GOP leadership, said in a Dec. 12 news conference.

What does it mean that a formal inquiry has been authorized?

Before a vote to launch an inquiry, specific charges do not need to be presented; the inquiry is designed to collect evidence.

"The scope can change in the course of an investigation," Stephen Griffin, a Tulane University law professor, told PolitiFact in September, when an impeachment inquiry vote was initially considered.

"The scope of the inquiry could be very broad and even amorphous at the outset, but by the time a committee takes a vote on impeachment articles, it tends to be more focused," Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor, told PolitiFact in September.

Formally impeaching the president would require another vote, after the investigation has been completed and after the committee responsible for the inquiry advances specific impeachment charges — such as obstruction of justice or bribery — to the full House.

Does this vote meaningfully change how the process will unfold?

The Dec. 13 resolution authorizes three House committees to continue the investigations that are already underway; to seek grand jury materials; to pursue subpoenas and approve others retroactively; and to hire outside counsel.

Scholars disagree about how much difference it could make. 

A formal inquiry could increase investigators’ ability to demand and receive documents from the White House.

"It's clear that the investigative power of the House is stronger in an impeachment inquiry," Frank O. Bowman III, a University of Missouri law professor and author of a book about the history of impeachment told PolitiFact in September. "If you're the House, it behooves you to get your investigation under that umbrella if you can."

The White House made this argument in a November letter from White House special counsel Richard Sauber to two Republicans who are key to the impeachment effort, House Oversight Chair James Comer, R-Ky., and Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.

Republicans, Sauber wrote, "claim the mantle of an 'impeachment inquiry' knowing full well that the Constitution requires that the full House authorize an impeachment inquiry before a committee may utilize compulsory process pursuant to the impeachment power — a step the Republican House Majority has so far refused to take."

Not everyone agrees that a formal vote is necessary, though.

On the eve of the vote, Matt Glassman, a Georgetown University congressional scholar and former Congressional Research Service staffer, posted on X, "I am going to remain a broken record and say the House committees have all the authority they need to investigate an impeachment. This resolution doesn’t add anything; the Trump and Biden (White Houses) were/are wrong about this; and a bipartisan House should tell them to pound sand."

Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son, talks to reporters Dec. 13, 2023, at the U.S. Capitol. (AP)

Investigators already had collected a large amount of information even without official authorization, including "more than 36,000 pages of bank records; 2,000 pages of suspicious activity reports from the Treasury Department; and dozens of hours of testimony from two of Hunter Biden’s business partners, a senior official from the National Archives and Records Administration, seven federal agents and three U.S. attorneys," The New York Times reported.

Testimony from one key witness, Hunter Biden himself, was in limbo as the impeachment authorization vote loomed. Hunter Biden’s legal team offered to have him testify in public, but Republicans leading the investigation said they would meet him only privately. Biden’s camp refused, arguing that this would enable Republicans to leak selected portions of his testimony without full context.

On the day of the impeachment vote, Comer and Jordan said that with Hunter Biden’s refusal to testify privately, they would pursue contempt of Congress proceedings

RELATED: What’s behind Republicans’ claim that Joe Biden received $40,000 of ‘laundered Chinese money’?

RELATED: Largest share of foreign payments went to Biden associates, not kin, House GOP memos show

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Our Sources

PolitiFact, "A possible House impeachment investigation of Joe Biden: What to know," Sept. 11, 2023

PolitiFact, "Largest share of foreign payments went to Biden associates, not kin, House GOP memos show," Sept 18, 2023

PolitiFact, "What’s behind Republicans’ claim that Joe Biden received $40,000 of ‘laundered Chinese money’?" Nov. 14, 2023, "H.Res.918 - Directing certain committees to continue their ongoing investigations as part of the existing House of Representatives inquiry into whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to exercise its Constitutional power to impeach Joseph Biden, President of the United States of America, and for other purposes," accessed Dec. 13, 2023, "Overview of Impeachment Clause," accessed Sept. 10, 2023

Matt Glassman, X post, Dec. 13, 2023

The Washington Post, "The push to impeach Biden is about to emerge from its right-wing bubble," Dec. 13, 2023

CNN, "House expected to vote on Biden impeachment inquiry," Dec. 13, 2023

NBC News, "White House counsel demands House Republicans withdraw Biden family subpoenas," Nov. 17, 2023

Associated Press, "House preps for a key vote on Biden impeachment inquiry as Republicans unite behind investigation," Dec. 13, 2023

Axios, "The Biden impeachment inquiry's shaky foundation," Dec 11, 2023

The New York Times, "Hunter Biden indicted on gun charges," Sept. 14, 2023

The New York Times, "Hunter Biden charged with evading taxes on millions from foreign firms," Dec. 7, 2023

The New York Times, "Once rare, impeachments and censures have become the norm in Congress," Aug. 8, 2023

U.S. News & World Report, "Democrats’ early edge toward taking back the House in ’24," Aug. 10, 2023, Joe Biden approval ratings, accessed Dec. 13, 2023

Email interview with James Robenalt, partner at the law firm Thompson Hine and specialist in Watergate legal history, Sep. 10, 2023

Email interview with Michael Gerhardt, University of North Carolina law professor, Sept. 6, 2023

Email interview with Frank O. Bowman III, University of Missouri law professor and author of the forthcoming book, "High Crimes & Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump," Sept. 6, 2023

Email interview with Stephen Griffin, Tulane University law professor, Sept. 6, 2023

Email interview with Donald Wolfensberger, congressional scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former staff director of the House Rules Committee, Sept. 7, 2023

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