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House Republicans are launching their first investigations into Democrats

Kentucky GOP Rep. James Comer and other House Republicans speak at the U.S. Capitol in November. This week, Republicans are holding their first hearings as part of investigations into the Biden administration.
Alex Wong
Getty Images
Kentucky GOP Rep. James Comer and other House Republicans speak at the U.S. Capitol in November. This week, Republicans are holding their first hearings as part of investigations into the Biden administration.

One recent afternoon on his way to votes, House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., remarked that he and his counterpart on the House Judiciary panel, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, are spending a lot of time together these days.

"We talk every day, we had breakfast together this morning, we work together, no problems there," the Kentucky congressman told NPR. "He knows what we're doing. We know what he's doing. Our staffs are close, our committee rooms are next door to each other. So we work together really well."

On Wednesday, House Republicans will hold their first set of hearings launching new oversight into the Biden administration and Democrats.

With the White House and Senate in Democratic hands, the hearings are part of a long laundry list the House GOP hopes to tackle this congressional session — a list that could also entail issuing subpoenas as part of their probes.

The Judiciary Committee's first meeting will cover what Republicans have dubbed "The Biden Border Crisis," part of the GOP's look into concerns surrounding immigration and security at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Meanwhile, Comer says the Oversight panel'sfirst hearing will focus on spending tied to the pandemic relief bills, which he claims didn't get enough scrutiny when Democrats controlled the House.

"There have been reports of lots of waste, fraud and abuse with respect to the stimulus funds, PPE, loan fund, unemployment funds and all of that," Comer said. "So we're just going to roll our sleeves up and get started there."

At the same time, the panel led by Comer is conducting a probe into the Biden family and its business dealings. But Republicans have not uncovered new evidence backing up their claims of improper behavior.

Democrats say the focus on Biden is more about politics than legitimate oversight.

"The Democratic position is that legislative oversight is the critical instrument for making sure that we're actually implementing our public laws and programs. And that's what we should be doing," said Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.

Republicans, who won a narrow House majority in the midterm elections, campaigned on pledges to investigate Democrats. And House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has repeatedly emphasized his conference will take on oversight of the Bidens and various federal agencies.

"One thing that Congress has, we have a constitutional responsibility to oversee the Justice Department," McCarthy said. "And that also means these ... individuals investigating. We have the constitutional power to do that, and we will."

Republicans say there are plenty of plans in store for overseeing the Justice Department and FBI. A push from hardline conservatives led to the formation of a new select Judiciary subpanel on the "weaponization of the federal government." The subpanel will be tasked with investigating claims that government workers have politically targeted Republicans. Jordan said they are prepared to issue subpoenas if needed.

"We'll issue the subpoenas and try to get the information, documents that we need," Jordan recently told reporters. "And if they give us the runaround, they give us the runaround. ... I guess I sort of expect that."

Raskin argues many of these Republican investigations are politically driven, but also says there's room for the parties to work together.

For example, both Comer and Raskin agreed that there could be legislative fixes to avoid concerns in the future of mishandled classified documents by occupants of the White House, given the recent discoveries tied to former President Trump during his time in office and President Biden as vice president in the Obama administration.

"You know, I think that we all agree and Raskin has said this, too ... that there needs to be reform," Comer said. "So we're going to eventually, hopefully, speak with the National Archives and try to figure out the severity of the problem."

Still, Raskin warns, extremist claims should not overtake the GOP investigations.

"Oversight is not about scandal mongering and sticking it to the other guys. Public oversight is about making sure the government is working for the people," he said.

That posture is part of a new larger battle that will play out publicly, pitting House Republicans against Democrats in what's expected to be a long series of probes and hearings to come.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Claudia Grisales
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.