Oversight Chair Admits Biden Investigations Are About Politics
Plus: How’s the debt ceiling deal coming along?
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Today we focus on two stories coming out of the Capitol: first, there’s the House Oversight chairman letting slip a major admission about the motivations of his investigations into the Bidens, and second, there’s the current status of the debt ceiling negotiations (spoiler: not good).
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James Comer says the quiet part out loud
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, admitted something Monday that he shouldn’t have: He said that a major benefit of his committee’s widely publicized investigations of Joe Biden and his family is that they are yielding major returns for the GOP because they’re helping to drag down the president’s poll numbers. From the way Comer talks about it, you could be forgiven for assuming this political upshot for the Republicans is the only reason they took up the investigations in the first place.
During an appearance on Fox & Friends First on Monday, Comer fielded a question from host Ashley Strohmier about whether his investigation is “what’s moved this needle with the media” by making it an issue they “can just not ignore . . . any longer.” He said:
Absolutely. There’s no question. You look at the polling and right now Donald Trump is seven points ahead of Joe Biden and trending upward. Joe Biden’s trending downward. And I believe that the media is looking around, scratching their head, and they’re realizing that the American people are keeping up with our investigation.
It’s hard to avoid hearing an echo of a similarly imprudent remark House Speaker Kevin McCarthy made in 2015, when he was the Republican Majority Leader, about the political effects of another congressional panel. Like Comer, McCarthy was live on Fox when he told Sean Hannity, “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi Special Committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”
McCarthy’s comments drew major backlash at the time from his fellow Republicans. Then-Speaker John Boehner and others immediately distanced themselves from their colleague’s Kinsley gaffe while offering pro-forma defenses of the Benghazi investigation’s legitimacy. The Clinton presidential campaign and Democratic lawmakers called for the panel to be dissolved and for McCarthy to abandon his nascent speakership bid.
In a measure of how much the political climate has changed since the fall of 2015, Comer’s comments haven’t created anything like the controversy McCarthy faced. There are a number of reasons for that. For one, while the Benghazi panel had a measure of seriousness on account of the tragedy that gave rise to it, the Biden investigations have always been viewed as frivolous and political. They have also been conducted so poorly and in such a disorganized manner that Comer has faced backlash, both publicly and privately, from his fellow Republicans and members of the conservative media. Comer also made his remarks while the national media’s attention was, understandably, elsewhere—on the debt ceiling negotiations. When a completely avoidable global economic catastrophe is in the offing, it can be difficult to pay attention to almost anything else.
But Comer’s slip did happen, and Biden’s defenders aren’t going to forget it. If these investigations ramp up at the same time that the 2024 presidential campaign cycle does—which folks on the Biden side believe is exactly what will happen—then Comer’s words will no doubt get further airtime, again and again, and not just on Fox. It’s hard to imagine more convenient material for Democratic messaging about these investigations than Comer’s compact summary of their welcome effect on Biden’s poll numbers. The slipup might prove even more beneficial to Biden than the other gifts Comer has already given the president—namely, his investigation screwups and admissions on national television of finding zero evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
Biden and Republicans are moving closer to a debt deal—albeit at a glacial pace
Let’s turn to the issue dominating Washington politics once again this week: the quest to strike a deal between House Republicans and the Biden administration to raise the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling. If a deal isn’t reached soon, the country could default on its debt obligations, which could have devastating consequences for the global economy and the U.S. government’s ability to pay its bills—including Social Security payments and other parts of the social safety net.
June 1 is the X-date estimated by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, although some Republicans are skeptical, suggesting the actual day of reckoning won’t take place until later in the summer.
Following McCarthy and Biden’s meeting yesterday with their senior staff and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), Biden released a short statement that recapped the administration’s position: “We reiterated once again that default is off the table and the only way to move forward is in good faith toward a bipartisan agreement.”
McCarthy is also projecting an optimistic tone as the negotiations continue, but he has precious little to say about the specifics.
I felt we had a productive discussion. We don’t have an agreement yet, but I did feel the discussion was productive in areas where we have differences of opinion.
If that sounds encouraging, don’t get your hopes up. During the House GOP’s closed-door meeting Tuesday morning, McCarthy reportedly told members they are “nowhere near a deal yet.”
The House leaves town at the end of this week, which means McCarthy needs to find his way to a deal as soon as possible to avoid keeping members in Washington longer than they want to be there. Momentous deals like this often come down to the very last minute, and drafting the actual text does, too. McCarthy might also be feeling some remorse about House Republicans keeping in place, as part of the rules package for the 118th Congress, a procedural stipulation that guarantees members 72 hours to review legislation before it can be brought up for a vote. That means the only way for the speaker to be able to schedule a vote by the end of this week would be to introduce the bill today. I’m not holding my breath.