Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

McCarthy directs opening of impeachment inquiry into Biden; WH on impeachment inquiry: "Extreme Politics At Its Worst". Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired September 12, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, the House speaker skips straight to an impeachment inquiry. I'm Dana Bash in Washington. The breaking news today, Kevin McCarthy opened Pandora's box.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R-CA): Today, I am directing our House committee to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. This logical next step will give our committees the full power to gather all the facts and answers for the American public. That's exactly what we want to know.


Let's get straight to Capitol Hill where CNN's Manu Raju is there. Manu, you were there when the speaker made that announcement. What are you hearing in the halls of the Capitol where you're standing right now?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's shame to change in plans by the speaker of the House, who had said just a few days ago, in fact, on September 1, that if they were to announce an impeachment inquiry, again to President Joe Biden, there would actually be a vote on the House floor to open it up.

In fact, he had told Breitbart News at the time that it wouldn't occur through a declaration by one person but occurred through a vote on the floor of the people's House. But the problem for Speaker McCarthy is that he does not have the votes at the moment to open up a formal impeachment inquiry and required that he do so.

So instead, changing tactics, calling for an investigation into Joe Biden, into those allegations that Joe Biden may have acted nefariously as vice president in allegations of a pay to play scheme with the son Hunter Biden, and those overseas business dealings.

Even though Republicans acknowledged they do not have the evidence yet to tie Hunter Biden's actions into Joe Biden directly to Joe Biden's actions to the Hunter Biden, and that that is one issue they plan to continue to investigate.

Now, what McCarthy indicated was that the House oversight committee would take the lead in this impeachment inquiry, that's led by Congressman James Comer. He will have an assist from two other key committees, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, as well as House Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith. All committees that have been involved in different parts of this Hunter Biden probe.

Now the question is, where does this go from here? And will they actually move forward and try to make Joe Biden just the fourth president in American history to be charged with high crimes or misdemeanors? That would still be a very high bar to get to because of divisions within the Republican ranks.

But by moving with this impeachment inquiry, Dana, he does have support from members of the far right, including Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, someone who met privately with Kevin McCarthy just yesterday.

Also, they had dinner with Donald Trump on Sunday night and had been calling for an impeachment inquiry. She said she is fine with McCarthy skipping the vote, and she wants this investigation to go as long as possible, you could potentially into next year, the election year.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE, (R-GA): I'm very excited to see it happen. I think Americans deserve truth. They deserve transparency. And we need this investigation to go as long as it needs to, to uncover all the corruption that has been involved in covering up Joe Biden's crimes.


RAJU: But again, the key question, Dana, is exactly how long this will go? What evidence they will ultimately come up with? Will they actually try to vote on an Article of Impeachment at the end of the day here, as people like Marjorie Taylor Greene have been pushing so hard.

Because at the moment, they simply do not have the votes, they can only afford to lose four Republicans in order to have any party line vote, there are far more than four Republicans who would vote against impeaching the president at this moment or a vote against even opening up an investigation into the president.

So, a lot of questions here about for the speaker, but still making this dramatic step to potentially charge the president with a high crime or misdemeanor.

BASH: Quite dramatic and the fact that the speaker did not ask for a vote because as you report, he does not have the votes within his own Republican conference is quite telling as to the dynamics behind the scenes in the offices where you are right now. Thank you so much. Manu, come back, if you hear anything else in those halls.

Here to share with their reporting and their insights, CNN's David Chalian, NPR's Ayesha Rascoe, and POLITICO's Eli Stokols. Thank you so much, one and all. David Chalian, I will start with you. You know, Manu was talking about the fact that there were -- there he has support from those on the right flank of his caucus. It's not support, its threat.


DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. I mean that's it is what is inextricably linked here is Kevin McCarthy's move today and Kevin McCarthy's quest to survive as speaker and that is what you're seeing on display here.

And so, by moving ahead with this impeachment inquiry, absent sort of unified support from his conference, Kevin McCarthy is saying in no uncertain terms, his own survival in this job as speaker is the most important thing here, rather than getting the entire Republican conference together with this as a critical goal for this fall, and I just think that's important to note here.

It's so different from what we saw four years ago, when Nancy Pelosi launched impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump in the first Trump impeachment. She waited for her more moderate frontline members to get on board with this idea, they were so skittish that this was going to blow up in their face that they -- it took them a while to get on board.

And finally, when those vulnerable members got on board, Nancy Pelosi move forward. Here Kevin McCarthy is taking the threats of the hard right wing of the conference and moving forward with his vulnerable members, his majority makers, not yet on board.

BASH: Not only not yet on board, but the feeling among many, I would even mention to say most of those majority makers, and by that we mean, Republicans who are freshmen, who are from more battleground districts like in the state of New York, who allowed him to be speaker with this very thin majority.

They don't want this because this is a distraction. This historically this kind of move, whether there is widespread support or not, tends to backfire on the impeach er, not the impeach e. And so that's why you have Kevin McCarthy, again pushing for this announcing this without taking a vote because the vote would fail.

AYESHA RASCOE, NPR HOST, "WEEKEND EDITKION SUNDAY" AND "UP FIRST": So, he doesn't even have the support of his own party. And it's interesting, because I mean, this would be an impeachment inquiry, that, you know, we're still a long way from actually trying to remove the president.

But it seems for all the facts that we have now that a Speaker Kevin McCarthy is much more likely to be out of his post as speaker before President Biden would be out of his foes do an impeachment. Like this is all about the politics of it.

And what if -- what at the end of the day, they're also looking for evidence that right now they have not found. And it's like, well, yes, if he did do a pay to play scheme that would be impeachable, but they have not found the evidence of it. BASH: Not that they've been able to show us for sure.

RASCOE: They've not that they've been able to show us.

BASH: So, let's just talk about the timing of what we have seen transpire so far. This morning, you saw the speaker make this announcement at around 11 am Eastern, knowing that Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida was planning to go to the House floor and announce that lots of things, but basically threatened the speaker that if he didn't do this, his speakership would be in trouble.

Let's listen to what Gaetz said a couple of days ago, when it comes to the pressure, he was putting on McCarthy.


REP. MATT GAETZ, (R-FL) (voiceover): I worked very hard in January to develop a toolkit for us to be able to reorient the House of Representatives in a productive and positive way. I don't believe we've used those tools as effectively as we should have. And when we get back to Washington in the coming weeks, we have got to seize the initiative. That means forcing votes on impeachment. And if Kevin McCarthy stands in our way, he may not have the job long.


BASH: And that's the story.

ELI STOKOLS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Yes. This whole speakership is a rolling hostage standoff that started with 15 rounds of McCarthy Speaker votes. And now it's coming to a head again, because a lot of these Freedom Caucus members like Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene, they weren't pleased with the deal that McCarthy cut with Biden, a few months ago around the debt ceiling.

And now there's pressure on them because they, you know, Donald Trump, who's kind of telling them, you know, what he wants from them. He's been indicted four times. And so, he wants movement here. That's what -- that's another factor that is pushing the Freedom Caucus folks. And, you know, that's McCarthy's staring down the barrel of the Freedom Caucus gun with a four-seat majority. And this is what it looks like.

It's this sort of short-term thinking. He's also, you know, at the end of the month got the government shut down possibility. And when you're dealing with the Freedom Caucus, they want something, right? Do they want to shut down the government or do they want impeachment? Will they settle for one or the other? And you see McCarthy trying to make that choice?

I mean, why do Republicans have a four-seat majority? The White House believes, and a lot of political analysts do to, that Republican extremism was the reason why Democrats were able to hold on. That's why he has this, this tiny majority, and what is he stuck with producing more extremism.


BASH: Well, and I think the point that you made about Donald Trump and the reporting that Manu had about Trump talking to Marjorie Taylor Greene the other night is really key to this, because he does want this to happen. He's been pushing this. He's been very public about it. He's been pushing in private to do this, which really is illustrative of the fact that he has still the biggest grip, not just on the party writ large, but on the House Republican conference.

Because if McCarthy was looking at the map and the math, he would know, and he would know -- he does know that to keep the majority, you do the opposite. You sort of listen to the moderates, and not to the right. And the answer to why he's doing that is because of Donald Trump. And you know, who's not happy about that, Republicans in the United States Senate.

John Thune, who is the number two. He said, one thing I do this is just today in the hallway. One thing I do know is I don't think it'd be advantageous, obviously, if this thing went. I just hate to see where this becomes the method of every time there is a change in administrations, of trying to throw somebody out of office. I think you ought to win elections. That's how, in my view, you change the direction of the country.

CHALIAN: And of course, the Republican conference in the Senate is split on this too. Mike Braun of Indiana came right out with the statement, saying impeachment inquiry is the way to go here. So, Donald Trump or Kevin McCarthy in this effort will have some supporters. But clearly the Senate Republicans are going to be even more divided than the House Republicans on this effort.

But Dana, it's so interesting what you're saying because the Donald Trump piece of this, this is a classic Trump tactic, right? He's facing four indictments and 91 criminal charges. So, what does he do? He just wants to muddy up the opposition so that it's all seen as the same.

So having months and months of conversation and hearings and news coverage of, well, what exactly did go on with Joe Biden and Hunter Biden's business dealings, and as we've all said, no evidence yet has been presented.

But Kevin McCarthy said this impeachment inquiry is about getting that hard evidence and having the ability to do it. Donald Trump wants that so badly to mitigate his own legal peril in the mind of the public. And as we see in public polling, the perception of this, and he's troubling for Joe Biden.

RASCOE: And in that, what he wants us to be able to say corruption, Joe Biden, in the same sentence, regardless of whether we say, there's no evidence right now, they just want to have that -- those that sentence together. There's corruption, there's Joe Biden, and they want that in the mind of voters.

BASH: OK. We have a lot more to discuss on this. But I want to take a quick break. And on the other side, we're going to go to the White House and see how the White House is responding to something that I guess generally speaking, they've been preparing for since Republicans took the House. Stay with us.




BASH: "Extreme politics at its worst." Moments ago, the White House weighed in on today's giant news railing against the House speaker's decision to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Biden. CNN's Arlette Saenz is live from the White House. Arlette, what exactly does that statement say?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, President Biden is behind closed doors here at the White House. So, we have yet to hear directly from him. But the White House counsel's office has been pushing back on this announcement from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy calling for a formal impeachment inquiry. And what they are really focusing on in this moment is the fact that McCarthy has changed his tactics, deciding that inquiry should move forward without a vote in the House.

A statement posted on social media by a White House counsel spokesperson Ian Sams says, "House Republicans have been investigating the president for nine months, and they've turned up no evidence of wrongdoing. His own GOP members have said so. He vowed to hold a vote to open impeachment, now he flipped flopped because he doesn't have support. Extreme politics at its worst."

And that is in line with what we have heard from the Biden White House as they have pushed back as McCarthy has floated the possibility of an impeachment inquiry over the past few weeks. And really, this is a moment that the White House, while they do not welcome it, it is something that they have been bracing for, for quite some time.

In stating back all the way to when House Republicans took over control of that chamber in Congress, the White House has really been ramping up their teams, hiring lawyers, communication experts, legislative aides to try to prepare for an onslaught of Republican investigations that now could transition into an impeachment inquiry.

And certainly, this will present a challenge for the White House going forward as they are heading into an election campaign. And as an inquiry could potentially extend into 2024, but for the time being the White House is trying to paint this as a symbol of extremist politics, extreme policies from the Republican wing of the party as McCarthy moves forward, calling for that formal impeachment inquiry.

BASH: OK. Arlette, thank you so much for that. Our panel is back. Eli, you cover the Biden White House on the regular -- on the reg as the kids say. Do you get a sense when you're talking to Biden officials, that they feel that with this kind of move, obviously it just happened. They need to ramp it up when it comes to the defense of the president, the defense politically of Hunter Biden, because they've been very cautious to this point.

STOKOLS: I don't know if I think you need to separate the Hunter Biden, you know, case from a Republican impeachment inquiry. And they may take -- they may continue to be pretty tight lipped about Hunter Biden, but they may be more forceful on this. They've been having meetings and talking about this for some time. None of this comes as a surprise to folks in the White House.

When you talk to them privately, they will express a lot of confidence, at least about the long-term situation. In fact, that if Republicans go down this road, they probably overplay their hand. They don't turn up much evidence. Democrats Biden aides feel like eventually the president will benefit from that in the long run from Republican overreach.


but they also recognize that it could be painful in the day to day, and that having the word impeachment out there and attached to this president having hearings, having a process that looks legitimate, that looks similar to other impeachments that we've just seen playing out daily, that will not be fun. And so, they do have a pretty robust operation ready to engage if that process continues.

BASH: They're trying to separate the Hunter Biden if it all from the Joe Biden if it all. But at its heart, the allegation, which we can say and we're going to say, umpteen times until they produce something does not have evidence that we've seen to back it up is that they're connected, and that Hunter Biden somehow influenced to Joe Biden, particularly when he was vice president not now.

Let's look at a poll that, David, I know you talked about extensively, when it came out about how people view Biden's potential alleged involvement in Hunter Biden's business. Do you believe that Biden had any involvement or not?

If you look at the numbers there, it is pretty astounding. 61 percent say yes. 38 percent say no. And that's largely based on the consuming of media, I'm sure and just hearing drip, drip, drip, not because they've actually seen evidence because we haven't.

CHALIAN: Yes. 42 percent of that 61, those are things that hated me (Ph), I think Joe Biden acted illegally. I mean, there is a real work to do when it comes to the White House to change public perception from where it is, after all of this time of dust being kicked up around this.

Now, you said at the heart of the allegation is some connection between Joe Biden and Hunter Biden. That's the heart of the impeachment allegation. There's no allegation about that in the law enforcement matter. In the case against Hunter Biden right now, we have not seen or hurt, we don't know.

But we've got no wind of any kind of connection there that's being pursued by the now special counsel in that case. This is, to your point, Eli, no administration would want this. So, waiting for the potential political benefit of backlash, Joe is, it's just an unpleasant process for them, because nobody would want this, especially with where Joe Biden's numbers are right now and heading into the reelection.

But one thing about those numbers that the White House is facing is this lack of enthusiasm around with Democrats. And that may be this sparks even in the immediate term, a rally around for some Democrats, if Joe Biden is under the impeachment inquiry.

BASH: And not for nothing, I mentioned the heart of the impeachment inquiry is about Joe Biden and Hunter Biden. This is not about when since Joe Biden has been president of the United States. This is pre that.


BASH: And so, another question is, whether that's even a thing. Can you impeach somebody, a president for something that didn't allegedly occur when he was president?

RASCOE: Well, I mean, it seems like that's what we're about to find out. I mean, you can look, when you talk about lying to the American public. I mean, during president -- when President Trump was in office, the Stormy Daniels thing came up, and he said he didn't know anything about the payments. And turns out, that wasn't true. But you know, he wasn't impeached for that, right?

Like this idea that things that you did before you were even president are now impeachable. I think at this point, impeachment has just become a political tool. It is something you do against the opposite party, and not something that really has much theme.

BASH: Yes. As you're talking, I'm answering my own question, which is, you can impeach for anything you want as long as you can get the votes for it, right?

CHALIAN: Right, because it is a political (crosstalk) I just don't know, Dana, Kevin McCarthy when he announced it did at the end, say, and finally there are serious allegations that Biden's family has been offered special treatment from the Biden administration. So, he did tie something in there at the end. But you're right, the bulk of the actions being discussed are Biden's time as vice.

STOKOLS: And given how divided the politics are that impeachment is just almost baked in at this point. The White House really thinks that the voters who matter, who will decide this election, the Hunter Biden stuff doesn't register with them, doesn't matter. And if Republicans want to do this, they will continue to talk about pocketbook issues. Yes, they have work to do on that front also politically, but they will continue to drive that contrast and see where things go.

BASH: And, you know, I don't want to get lost in this. The idea that the government will shut down on September 30, if Congress doesn't pass a bill to keep the government running. And the same republican congress people who are saying, we're going to oust you if you don't do the impeachment inquiry or tying the impeachment inquiry least starting it to a vote to keep the government open. And so, these are all so connected and they're all part of a fundamental political threat.


CHALIAN: Kevin McCarthy is hoping those members are tying the impeachment inquiry to the budget situation. That's his goal here is to, hey, can I make good on this, so that we can actually keep the government open? It is not clear yet, if those numbers are actually tying those two plus inquiries (Ph).

BASH: And he's going to need a lot of Democratic votes to keep the government running, which is another reason why he needs to say, OK, right. I'm listening to you. All right, everybody standby. More on the breaking news ahead. But first, inside world politics, Kim Jong Un is in Russia on his way to meet Vladimir Putin. What exactly are the two leaders planning? CNN Christiane Amanpour joins us live to explain. Stay with us.