Biden’s Brewing Dilemma: Whether To Comply With an Expected Avalanche of GOP Subpoenas
The president may be forced to decide whether to borrow a page from his predecessor’s playbook and ignore congressional subpoenas and be pilloried as a hypocrite, or comply and be publicly embarrassed by his antagonists.
With Republicans promising to bombard the White House with subpoenas after they take over the House in January, the Biden administration faces a dilemma of its own doing — comply with the subpoenas, as it demanded of the preceding president, or ignore them and risk being labeled hypocrites.
Republicans poised to step into leadership roles in the new Congress said last week that they aim to launch a series of investigations into President Biden’s tenure so far, targeting everything from the immigration chaos at the border to the calamitous withdrawal from Afghanistan to politicization of the Department of Justice. Their most vexatious inquiries, however, will likely revolve around the president’s grown son, Hunter Biden, and his dealings with foreign governments.
At a news conference last week, two top Republicans who will take over the House oversight and judiciary committees, Representatives James Comer and Jim Jordan, promised an array of hearings relating to what they called the “national security threat” posed by Hunter Biden’s connections to Russian, Chinese, and Ukrainian companies. Mr. Comer said their focus would extend beyond the president’s son and into the Oval Office.
“In the 118th Congress, this committee will evaluate the status of Joe Biden’s relationship with his family’s foreign partners and whether he is a president who is compromised or swayed by foreign dollars and influence,” Mr. Comer, who will head the Oversight Committee, said. “I want to be clear: This is an investigation of Joe Biden, and that’s where the committee will focus in this next Congress.”
The White House already has snapped back at Republicans, calling their charges “long-debunked conspiracy theories” and vowing not to let the “political attacks” distract the president. At the same time, however, administration officials have quietly been gathering a team of lawyers, communications specialists, and legislative experts to fend off the assaults. Outside groups funded by large Democratic donors are being lined up to launch a counter-offensive on topics deemed too personal or politically perilous for the president, according to reporting from Politico last week.
The Republicans’ razor-thin majority means little legislation is likely to emerge from the next Congress, so the GOP aims to make its grievances heard through the power of the congressional subpoena. Representative Nancy Mace, a Republican of South Carolina, said on Fox News on Sunday that she and her colleagues plan to cast a wide net.
“The beauty of the subpoena is we’ll be able to call anyone that we want,” Ms. Mace said. “We have a lot of questions, and I think all witnesses should be on the table for these investigations.”
When the tables were last turned and Republicans fronted those committees during the Trump administration, many of the same Republicans now promising a flurry of subpoenas were much less eager to compel testimony from the White House. Democrats on the committee, when they were in the minority, said Republicans quashed dozens of subpoenas during the Trump years. Mr. Trump and his allies also ignored multiple subpoenas from the House’s January 6 committee; one of the allies — Stephen Bannon — was even convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to testify before the body.
Mr. Biden supported those charges at the time, telling reporters in October last year that the justice department should prosecute those in the Trump camp who failed to comply with the subpoenas. “I hope the committee goes after them and holds them accountable,” the president told reporters in October 2021. Now, the president may well be forced to decide whether to borrow a page from his predecessor’s playbook and choose to ignore Congress and be pilloried as a hypocrite, or comply and be publicly embarrassed by his antagonists.
The White House has so far not responded to the prospect of subpoenas, but some of its allies in Congress are already saying the president should comply. In an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Representative Adam Schiff, a prominent Democratic voice on the January 6 committee, said the administration should heed any congressional demands, but only those with what he called “appropriate oversight.”
“I think they will cooperate with appropriate oversight, but we continually face a variation of the same question, which is, should the Democrats do the right — do the appropriate thing — when Republicans have consistently refused to,” Mr. Schiff said. “I think we maintain the high ground. We follow the law. We follow our responsibilities under the separation of powers.”