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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., addresses reporters Sept. 12, 2023, at the Capitol in Washington He said he’d order a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. (AP) House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., addresses reporters Sept. 12, 2023, at the Capitol in Washington He said he’d order a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. (AP)

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., addresses reporters Sept. 12, 2023, at the Capitol in Washington He said he’d order a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. (AP)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson September 13, 2023
Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman September 13, 2023

Kevin McCarthy’s Full Flop on opening Joe Biden impeachment inquiry with a House vote

If Your Time is short

  • House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Sept. 1 that there would be a House vote before proceeding with an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

  • McCarthy said in a Sept. 12 speech that he was proceeding with an impeachment inquiry. He did not hold a House vote.

  • McCarthy told reporters Sept. 12 that former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., created precedent in 2019 when she proceeded on an impeachment inquiry without a House vote. But she held a vote several weeks later.

  • Learn more about PolitiFact's fact-checking process and rating system.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy directed his chamber to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden related to his family’s foreign business dealings.

McCarthy did not ask the House to vote on whether to proceed with the inquiry. His Sept. 12 directive came just days after he had pledged to hold a vote to launch an inquiry, and it’s at odds with his 2019 comments, when he repeatedly criticized then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for initially launching an impeachment inquiry into then-President Donald Trump without a vote.

Time to rev up PolitiFact’s Flip-O-Meter, which evaluates an official’s consistency on an issue without making a value judgment.

In his four-minute announcement at the U.S. Capitol, McCarthy alleged that Biden’s family had been offered special treatment by his administration, something the White House denies.

House Republicans have been investigating Biden’s son, Hunter, for months. Their primary focus involves money Hunter Biden received while serving on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, as his dad, then vice president, helped shape Ukraine policy. So far, this investigation has produced no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden.

We contacted McCarthy’s office for more information and did not get a response.

What McCarthy said days before announcing impeachment inquiry

McCarthy told Breitbart News, a conservative news website, Sept. 1, that he would launch an impeachment investigation only with a vote, which would need a simple majority to pass. 

"To open an impeachment inquiry is a serious matter, and House Republicans would not take it lightly or use it for political purposes. The American people deserve to be heard on this matter through their elected representatives," McCarthy said. "That’s why, if we move forward with an impeachment inquiry, it would occur through a vote on the floor of the People’s House and not through a declaration by one person."

However, McCarthy decided less than two weeks later to launch an investigation without a House vote. 

Politically, it would have been hard for McCarthy to get enough votes to launch an impeachment investigation; the GOP has only a five-seat majority. With no Democrats expected to vote in favor of an impeachment investigation, McCarthy would have needed most of the 18 Republicans who serve in districts Biden won in 2020 to vote for it. That would have made them even more vulnerable with their constituents back home than they already are.

What McCarthy said in 2019

McCarthy’s 2023 decision stands in contrast to his criticism of Pelosi for initially forgoing a vote in 2019 as Democrats moved to impeach Trump. 

On Sept. 24, 2019, Pelosi said there would be a formal impeachment investigation, charging six committees with running it. McCarthy tweeted the same day, "Here are the facts: 1. Speaker Pelosi can't decide on impeachment unilaterally. It requires a full vote of the House of Representatives."

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Over the next several weeks, McCarthy repeatedly called on Pelosi to seek House approval and criticized her "unilateral impeachment," calling the process a "sham."

McCarthy submitted a resolution saying that moving forward without a vote "undermines the voting privileges afforded to each Member and the constituents they represent."

After criticism from McCarthy and others, on Oct. 31, 2019, Pelosi teed up a vote by the full House on whether to launch an impeachment investigation, and it passed.

What McCarthy has said about proceeding without a vote

In his Sept. 12 speech, McCarthy did not say why he wasn’t pursuing a House vote. He said the committees on Ways and Means, Oversight and Judiciary would lead the investigation.

Speaking to reporters later that day, McCarthy pointed to Pelosi’s actions, which altered House precedent, as his rationale for not holding a vote. 

"She changed that — this is how you do it. So, I warned her not to do it that way in the process, and that’s what she did, so that’s what we do," McCarthy said.

On Sept. 13, when CNN’s Manu Raju asked McCarthy why he changed his position, McCarthy said: "I never changed my position." 

McCarthy hasn’t explicitly ruled out the possibility of a future vote, which would mirror what Pelosi did.

Proceeding without a vote is legal, however it breaks from the impeachment processes for Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

Our ruling 

McCarthy said Sept. 1 that an impeachment inquiry into Biden would proceed with a House vote.

But on Sept. 12, McCarthy changed course, proceeding with an impeachment inquiry without a vote.

This was also a reversal from McCarthy’s 2019 stance, when he repeatedly said Democrats should not proceed on an impeachment inquiry without a full House vote.

We rate his position a Full Flop.

RELATED: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy orders impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden: What to know

Our Sources

C-SPAN, House Speaker McCarthy News Conference on Impeachment Inquiry, Sept. 12, 2023

CNN’s Manu Raju, X, Sept. 13, 2023

Breitbart News, "McCarthy on Possible Impeachment Inquiry: Would Be House Vote," Sept. 1, 2023

The New York Times, McCarthy, facing an ouster and a shutdown, orders an impeachment inquiry, Sept. 12, 2023

Annotated Constitution, accessed Sept. 12, 2023

The Hill, Senate GOP unhappy with McCarthy on impeachment inquiry: ‘It’s a fool’s errand,’ Sept. 12, 2023

Politico, Impeachment won’t solve McCarthy’s spending problem, Sept. 12, 2023

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, X, Sept. 24, 2019

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, X, Sept. 26, 2019

Rep. Kevin McMarthy, Resolution, Sept. 25, 2019

U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Oct. 3, 2019

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, X, Oct. 15, 2019

Ian Sams, X post, Sept. 12, 2023

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

PolitiFact, Transcript of Devon Archer testimony doesn’t back key claims about Joe and Hunter, Aug. 4, 2023

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More by Louis Jacobson

Kevin McCarthy’s Full Flop on opening Joe Biden impeachment inquiry with a House vote

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