House Democrats are reassessing their strategy for responding to investigations into President Biden that have officially become part of a broader impeachment inquiry, determined to accelerate their fact-checking of Republican claims and sever interest in Biden from the mounting problems faced by his son.
Democratic lawmakers and aides say they must combat a GOP that is “flooding the zone” with false accusations about Biden, raising questions about the extent to which each claim should be refuted and determining the most pressing narratives to counter.
At the same time, many want to disentangle the president from the investigation into Hunter Biden, whose business dealings are being dissected by the GOP and who now faces gun charges after a multiyear Justice Department probe.
“I think we need to articulate in general that they’ve not laid a glove on Joe Biden, and then we need to refute specific innuendo, rumors and speculation,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told The Hill.
“We have to just educate the country that we have examined 12,000 pages of bank records, and 2,000 [page of suspicious activity reports], and we’ve talked to dozens of witnesses. And nobody links President Biden to any criminality.”
In the face of Hunter Biden’s charges, some Democrats have been more vocal in suggesting that some of his behavior was unethical and even criminal, a move that comes as aides say the party must show no wrongdoing leads back to his father.
“That’s a huge part of the strategy is separating whatever Hunter’s issues are from President Biden and drawing that distinction,” a senior Democratic aide with knowledge of the investigations told The Hill.
“There’s no reason to throw [Hunter] under the bus. It’s more of, our job is not to defend him. There’s a very big difference between those two things.”
The sprawling investigation into the two Bidens covers everything from Hunter Biden’s business ventures to unproven and refuted allegations that have circled for years in Republican rhetoric over whether Biden’s public pressure to oust a Ukrainian prosecutor was related to his son’s work.
Republicans have yet to find the smoking gun to prove their most serious accusation — that President Biden accepted a bribe in the course of seeking the prosecutor’s removal.
And they’ve also zeroed in on testimony from two IRS whistleblowers involved in investigating Hunter Biden’s potential tax crimes who have complained the Justice Department probe was slow walked.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Tuesday that the inquiry would allow investigators to continue their work, saying what they’ve found “should concern all Americans.”
Democrats and Republicans have volleyed memos back and forth, released lengthy transcripts and taken to the airwaves to promote and combat the claims, producing an extensive amount of information for opposing staffers and reporters to sift through.
The senior Democratic aide said they will have to be more aggressive than they have been.
“We’re just not going to let that stuff sit perhaps like we used to. I mean, once narratives take hold it’s really hard to undo them,” the aide said.
“The problem is that some of it is so conspiracy theory-driven that it’s even hard to go after … They are just flooding the zone with so much innuendo and garbage that we’re gonna have to find a way to systematically fact-check that stuff and make sure those narratives are not taking hold.”
Still, recent polling suggests Republicans have been effective in relaying their message.
A CNN poll conducted before Hunter Biden’s indictment found that 61 percent of respondents said they believe the president had some involvement in his son’s business dealings while 42 percent said they believe he acted illegally.
The White House in Wednesday memo to news outlets called on reporters to thoroughly vet GOP claims.
“Reporting that solely focuses on process rather than substance is woefully inadequate when it comes to something as historically grave as impeachment,” Ian Sams, a special assistant to the president, wrote.
“It’s time for the media to ramp up its scrutiny of House Republicans for opening an impeachment inquiry based on lies. When even House Republican members are admitting that there is simply no evidence that Joe Biden did anything wrong, much less impeachable, that should set off alarm bells for news organizations,” he added, listing a string of GOP members who have expressed reservations about a lack of evidence gathered thus far.
But another Democratic aide familiar with the investigations said the party will have to figure out a balancing act.
“It’s challenging because what are we supposed to [do] every time they lie [then] counter with the facts? When they’re doing it so constantly? When they’re constantly bombarding with no attention to what is real? That’s a lot,” the aide said.
The aide added that could fatigue reporters.
“We have the facts and an argument to undercut every one of their arguments, but the press corps, each outlet, you all have your own capacity for the day,” the aide continued.
“I think that a lot of Democrats feel like ‘OK, so let’s go after the most egregious and most foundational lies and misrepresentations and distortions Republicans are promoting,” the aide said.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) suggested that would be an easy lift.
“It makes it very easy to respond to. All we do is point out that this apparently is some deal that Kevin McCarthy has made to try to keep the right wingers from voting him out of the Speakership,” he said.
“That’s no basis for an investigation that’s supposed to have evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors.”
In the halls of Congress last week, many sought to distinguish between the budding impeachment inquiry into President Biden and the congressional and law enforcement investigations into his son.
“Hunter Biden is obviously a very disturbed person. He’s, you know, he’s a drug addict; he may very well have committed crimes, but [when it comes to] the president, they’ve shown no connection,” House Judiciary Committee ranking member Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) told The Hill.
“For all of [Rep.] James Comer [R-Ky.] and [Rep.] Jim Jordan’s [R-Ohio] bluster, when they talk about the evidence — ‘The evidence is going to be there’ — but it’s not there. They never show it. We will show how ridiculous this is.”
Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), who as a staffer worked on former President Trump’s first impeachment, also said Republicans would be unable to connect President Biden to wrongdoing, mocking the GOP’s fondness for saying they are investigating the Biden family.
“Every single time you hear a Republican say, ‘the Biden family,’ just know that’s because it does not include Joe Biden. If it did, they would say Joe Biden,” he said.
“Impeachment of Joe Biden requires evidence linking Joe Biden to wrongdoing either by Hunter Biden or otherwise, and there is no evidence at all to support an impeachment inquiry based on what we know.”
The senior aide noted that much of Republicans’ fixation on Hunter Biden deals with the handling of his case by the Justice Department (DOJ), including whether the special counsel on the case had the authority to bring charges elsewhere — an inquiry they said would “maybe” suggest wrongdoing by the DOJ at best.
“What on paper they’re trying to do is impeach Hunter Biden,” the aide said.
“We’re spending so much time talking about these things that actually don’t have anything to do with President Biden. So I think that’s the point in all of this is sort of reframing and refocusing the debate on, you know, the actual, actual situation here.”
McCarthy’s inquiry kickoff is just the first step, and it’s unclear if the leader will bring the matter to the full House floor for a vote ahead of any potential articles for impeachment that might be considered down the road.
“This thing is going to stretch out to the election, and that is not a bug of the system, that is a feature, and this is going to take a while,” the senior aide said.
“This is the new normal from now probably through Election Day, unfortunately.”
This story was updated at 10:41 a.m.