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House Republicans push to formalize Biden impeachment inquiry to compel testimony but lack the votes

By Annie Grayer and Paula Reid, CNN

(CNN) — House Republicans are pushing to formalize their impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, according to multiple senior GOP sources – a shift designed to strengthen their position against the White House and the president’s son, as the stakes for obtaining key documents and testimony reach a critical juncture.

Up until this point, House Republicans have not had the votes to legitimize their inquiry, which former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy unilaterally launched in September, with a formal House vote – a clear sign that the conference has remained divided over whether the evidence exists to impeach the president.

Republicans want to strengthen their subpoenas and standing in court as they stare down potential legal battles with the White House, which recently told Congress the inquiry lacks constitutional legitimacy without a formal vote, and Hunter Biden, who told Congress Tuesday he is willing to testify publicly in the House Oversight Committee’s inquiry into his actions instead of a private deposition. A source familiar with the strategy told CNN the president’s son does not plan on backing down.

On top of that, House Republican leadership is facing increasing pressure from its right wing, and the party’s base, to show forward momentum in their investigation.

Republicans will hold a key conference meeting on Friday to make their case and try to convince holdouts within their own party to get on board with an inquiry vote. While House Majority Whip Tom Emmer told Republicans on Wednesday the House may soon move forward with an inquiry vote, citing the White House’s recent letter, the understanding is Republicans would not move forward unless they had the votes to pass it, according to multiple lawmakers in the meeting.

“If we know we’re going to end up in court fighting, which I think everybody understands we are going to, we should put ourselves in the best position possible to win those fights,” North Dakota Rep. Kelly Armstrong, who serves on two of the congressional committees leading the inquiry, said about the immediate need to hold a vote on the inquiry.

Rep. Barry Loudermilk, who said he would vote to formalize the inquiry but does not find it necessary, told CNN the vote could be useful politically.

“Constituents back home are getting antsy, ‘What are you doing?’ You know, so that can give some people something to say, ‘Well I voted for the impeachment inquiry’,” the Georgia Republican said, noting also that the vote could be used to put people on the record against the effort.

In a sign that there is some momentum, two swing district Republicans who have been reluctant to support impeachment told CNN they would at least back an inquiry vote: GOP Reps. Nick LaLota of New York and Don Bacon of Nebraska.

But not everyone is sold yet, and GOP leaders can only lose four votes. Colorado Republican Rep. Ken Buck, who is against impeaching the president, told CNN he is also against voting to formalize the inquiry.

“I have not seen any evidence to change my position,” he said. “I will ask for any new evidence and sit down with investigators, if they’re willing.”

The White House dismissed the latest GOP push.

“This is yet another sad attempt by extreme House Republicans to try to distract from their own chaos and dysfunction,” White House spokesman Ian Sams told CNN. “Their baseless fishing expedition targeting the President has been going on for an entire year and, over and over again, their allegations of wrongdoing by President Biden have been thoroughly debunked.”

How an impeachment vote relates to compelling testimony

House Republicans and Hunter Biden are at a stalemate.

The president’s son is not willing to appear for a closed-door deposition, according to a source familiar with the strategy. Republicans meanwhile, want the president’s son to come in for a deposition before a public hearing.

“Hunter has stated he will comply with subpoena, but he wants to do a public hearing. The fact that the committee won’t agree to that demonstrates the paucity of what they have. This is part of a series the Chairmans of these committees have misrepresented what have actually gathered,” the source told CNN. “They should take yes for an answer.”

The approach is part of the more aggressive strategy – spearheaded by Hunter Biden’s lawyers, Kevin Morris and Abbe Lowell. As part of the new approach, he has sued several of his detractors like Rudy Giuliani and former Trump White House aide Garrett Ziegler.

While Republicans like Armstrong remarked that the play by Hunter Biden’s legal team is a “smart political strategy,” he said it won’t work on Republicans.

“Unfortunately, they don’t get to determine the method in which they participate in congressional inquiries. I don’t care how good a lawyer you are, you’re not in charge of how this works. We are,” Armstrong said.

House Republicans argue that formalizing the inquiry with a vote will give them a better chance of securing the closed-door testimony of the president’s son, and other witnesses who do not want to play ball on their terms.

“My understanding is it gives those subpoenas more teeth,” LaLota told CNN. “That when people are not responsive to the subpoenas issued by the three relevant committees, that when you formalize the vote of the House, those subpoenas have more weight in court, such not to be quashed.”

Many see House Speaker Mike Johnson, a former member of the House Judiciary Committee, as critical to getting reluctant Republicans on board with formalizing the inquiry and beyond that, building momentum for impeaching the president, rather than placating to all factions of the Republican conference.

“You can have a touch that is so soft that you simply are standing in the middle of the road. That will not do him any good. It will not do any good for the Republican conference or the Republican voter, or the American people. He’s going to have to apply himself and move people along,” North Carolina Rep. Dan Bishop said.

Another Republican lawmaker expressed concern that the House speaker is succumbing to outside political pressure: “I think that’s what it sure looks like to me.”

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