On the latest edition of PBS’s weekly political journalist roundtable Washington Week with The Atlantic, guest host Laura Barron-Lopez (a familiar face here at NewsBusters) set the tone right from the show’s introduction, of desperate Republicans hurling unsubstantiated accusations against the wall.
BARRON-LOPEZ: House Republicans in disarray.
SPEAKER KEVIN MCCARTHY(R-CA): We will go wherever the evidence takes us.
BARRON-LOPEZ: Speaker Kevin McCarthy opens an impeachment inquiry into the president, all to appease his most extreme members, just weeks before a deadline to fund the government.
There was a plethora of the outlet’s usual labeling bias as well.
BARRON-LOPEZ: Hunter Biden is indicted on federal gun charges, next. Good evening and welcome to Washington Week. I`m Laura Boron Lopez. Jeffrey Goldberg is away. House Republicans are in turmoil again. Under pressure from the far right, Speaker Kevin McCarthy launched a formal impeachment inquiry based on no evidence into President Joe Biden. The move, taken within hours of returning from summer recess, didn’t work. Right-wing members say if they don’t have all their demands met, they`ll shut down the government. And they`re threatening McCarthy’s gavel to prove they mean it.
Her journalist guests also claimed “no evidence,” despite the actual mounting evidence of Joe Biden’s knowledge of, and possible involvement in, his son Hunter’s influence-peddling during the senior Biden’s two terms as vice president.
LEIGH ANN CALDWELL (Washington Post): There isn’t. There’s no evidence yet. And that is, there are some Republicans, who wanted to impeach President Biden because of this, yesterday. But most Republicans say, including Kevin McCarthy, we need to continue to investigate, we have found some smoking guns, and while there’s no direct connection yet, that is the reason we need to open an impeachment inquiry and need to keep investigating. But there is absolutely no evidence yet….
Heidi Przybyla of Politico piled on.
PRZYBYLA: ….they have also had these suspicious transaction reports from the Treasury for many, many months, and nothing has come out of there. And the only documentation that they have pointed to is a family cell-phone plan and some text messages that Hunter sent while he was addicted to crack cocaine.
Barron-Lopez summed up the case for the defense (i.e. the Democrats).
BARRON-LOPEZ: So we have established that there’s no evidence right now linking Hunter Biden’s business dealings to Joe Biden and that there are a number of Senate Republicans and House Republicans that don’t want to do it….
The panel discussed the memo the White House sent out -- and which the supposedly fearless and objective news media dutifully signed on to.
BARRON-LOPEZ: In that memo that they sent out, they also detailed some of the facts that you highlighted, Leigh Ann, which was that some of Hunter Biden’s own former associate said there’s nothing here, that the president never discussed business with his son. But this impeachment inquiry was meant to win over these far-right Republicans. McCarthy announced it to win them over to try to then get them to agree to fund the government, and it didn`t work…..
Later Barron-Lopez made an offensive comparison. Republicans targeting McCarthy’s speakership weren’t just far-right, they’re terrorists too!
BARRON-LOPEZ: Right, negotiating with hostage-takers even though they may not be willing to ultimately vote for this in the end.
It makes for quite a medley with the PBS NewsHour "no evidence" claptrap minutes before.
This falsely premised assault on congressional Republicans was brought to you in part by Consumer Cellular.
A transcript is below, click “Expand.”
PBS Washington Week with The Atlantic
8:00:25 p.m (ET)
Laura Barron-Lopez: House Republicans in disarray.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA): We will go wherever the evidence takes us.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy opens an impeachment inquiry into the president, all to appease his most extreme members, just weeks before a deadline to fund the government.
Laura Barron-Lopez: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL): Mr. Speaker, you are out of compliance. The path forward for the House of Representatives is to either bring you into immediate total compliance or remove you.
Kevin McCarthy: I showed frustration in here because I am frustrated.
Laura Barron-Lopez: Facing threats of losing his speakership, McCarthy confronts his detractors in a fiery meeting.
Reporter: Would the president pardon or commute his son if he's convicted.
Karine Jean-Pierre, White House Press Secretary: So, I've answered this question before, and I was very clear and I said, no.
Laura Barron-Lopez: Hunter Biden is indicted on federal gun charges, next.
Good evening and welcome to WASHINGTON WEEK. I'm Laura Barron Lopez. Jeffrey Goldberg is away.
House Republicans are in turmoil again. Under pressure from the far right, Speaker Kevin McCarthy launched a formal impeachment inquiry based on no evidence into President Joe Biden.
The move taken within hours of returning from summer recess didn't work. Right wing members say if they don't have all their demands met, they'll shut down the government. And they're threatening McCarthy's gavel to prove they mean it.
Matt Gaetz: We talked about balanced budgets, term limits, single subject spending bills. Those things have not happened.
And so he's throwing impeachment out like an ill-cast lure and he has no real intent to follow through.
Laura Barron-Lopez: By week's end, in an expletive-laden speech behind closed doors, McCarthy dared his detractors to remove him.
Kevin McCarthy: I don't walk away from a battle. I knew changing Washington would not be easy.
And you know what? If it takes a fight, I'll have a fight.
Laura Barron-Lopez: Meanwhile, Democrats are rallying behind the president, separating him from his son, who was indicted Thursday on three federal gun charges.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY): The Hunter Biden matter is pending before a court.
With respect to President Biden, there is no evidence, not a shred of evidence that President Biden engaged in wrongdoing.
Laura Barron-Lopez: Joining me to discuss this and more, Leigh Ann Caldwell, co-Author of The Washington Post's Early 202 Newsletter and a Washington Post Live Anchor, Andrew Desiderio, Senior Congressional Reporter for Punchbowl News. Weijia Jiang, the senior White House correspondent for CBS News, and Heidi Przybyla, a national investigative correspondent at Politico. Thank you all for joining tonight.
Heidi, I want to start with you. Hunter may very well face additional charges beyond these three gun charges that deal with him making false statements about firearms that he purchased. But his lawyer questioned whether or not these charges were constitutional. Why?
Heidi Przybyla, National Investigative Correspondent, Politico: Well, there's the constitutionality, because in 2022 the Supreme Court actually made it more difficult to bring charges like these. And you start from a base of these charges as standalone charges being very unusual to be brought alone, according to legal experts. And that's why he's asking the question, the attorney, the defense attorney, of why this is happening now when the prosecutors known about this for years.
And the law has actually gotten more difficult to prosecute for this. He says the only thing that's changed in his opinion is the politics.
Laura Barron-Lopez: Weijia, this complicates the president's re-election a bit. I mean, how is the White House responding to this?
Weijia Jiang, Senior White House Correspondent, CBS News: Well, it complicates it in that they have to spend time answering the questions that they will no doubt continue fielding about this. But the White House's strategy has been pretty clear in this case to try to create as much separation as possible between any of these independent investigations by the Department of Justice and President Biden himself.
And we have seen a shift in tone from the president, who, at one point several months ago, was saying things like my son did nothing wrong. And now he is not saying that. He has switched to saying how much he supports his son and how much he loves his son. Because, of course, he doesn't want to give any ammo to anyone who is trying to accuse the White House of having anything to do with DOJ investigations, especially one that has to do with Hunter Biden.
And so they are trying to move forward, trying to focus on other things, but, of course, this is the president's son. And no U.S. government has ever put felony charges against the child of a sitting president.
So, it is historic, but it's something that I think the White House would like to not talk about.
Laura Barron-Lopez: Right. I mean, Hunter Biden, Leigh Ann, is at the center of this impeachment inquiry that House Republicans just launched. But is there any evidence that President Biden took a bribe or that President Biden used his influence to benefit his son, Hunter, at all?
Leigh Ann Caldwell, Early 202 Co-Author, The Washington Post: There isn't. There's no evidence yet. And that is, there are some Republicans who wanted to impeach President Biden because of this yesterday.
But most Republicans say, including Kevin McCarthy, we need to continue to investigate. We have found some smoking guns. And while there's no direct connection yet, that is the reason we need to open an impeachment inquiry and need to keep investigating. But there is absolutely no evidence yet.
There are some people who have come forward that the Republicans thought would maybe be able to draw that connection. It's one of Devon Archer, who is one of Hunter Biden's former business partners. And the transcripts of that deposition showed that Devon Archer said, no. President Biden was never involved. Yes, he would stop by and say hi sometimes, but there was no illicit activity.
But Republicans are continuing to go down this path, even though impeachment inquiry is also very political at this moment.
Heidi Przybyla: I was just going to say, they have also had these suspicious transaction reports from the Treasury for many, many months, and nothing has come out of there. And the only documentation that they have pointed to is a family cell phone plan and some text messages that Hunter sent while he was addicted to crack cocaine.
Laura Barron-Lopez: I mean, Andrew, to Leigh Ann's point about the fact that there are a number of House Republicans who did not want to go down this path, what are Senate Republicans saying?
Andrew Desiderio, Senior Congressional Reporter, Punchbowl News: Well, there is that group of House Republicans to start that come from districts that President Biden won in 2020. They are the ones who do not want to vote on the House floor to open up an inquiry.
What Speaker McCarthy essentially did was declare by edict that, yes, we're opening up an inquiry, even though a few years prior he had criticized that tactic that Speaker Pelosi had used. So, that's number one.
Number two is the fact that you see Senate Republicans really skeptical of this right now. I talked with Senator John Thune, the number two Senate Republican, a few days ago, and he said that he believes that or he fears that impeachment has become weaponized, that it's become too political over the last few years or so.
And he worries that it would put another thing on Congress' plate at a time when they have so much to do on the must pass agenda, right, government funding, the annual defense bill, reauthorizing the FAA, the farm bill. These are major things that Congress has to get done. And they're right now in a huge time crunch.
Imagine throwing an impeachment trial on the Senate at this time. And what Senator Thune basically said was that it would not be advantageous for an impeachment trial to move forward right now.
Laura Barron-Lopez: So, we have established that there's no evidence right now linking Hunter Biden's business dealings to Joe Biden and that there are a number of Senate Republicans and House Republicans that don't want to do it.
So, I want us to focus on the why they're doing this. And we might find some insight if we look back to 2015 and the GOP Benghazi investigation.
Kevin McCarthy: 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.
Laura Barron-Lopez: Heidi, is this Benghazi 2.0? I mean, is the goal for McCarthy, as he admitted then, but this time around, to politically damage Republicans' opponent?
Heidi Przybyla: Well, they haven't come across any new evidence that they're citing that warrants this impeachment inquiry. And we in Politico reported that a senior Republican actually said that they thought it would be best timed around the convention to maximize political damage.
Now, that's not quite as blatant as what McCarthy said there in 2015, but you can't deny that there is an absolute political calculation that was made here, that this might appease right wing legislatures who were pressuring him, but that lasted no more than, what, like, 24 hours before Matt Gaetz kind of shut that down.
But, look, he's right. Just creating the illusion of impropriety can politically be very advantageous. And we saw that not only with Benghazi, we saw it with WikiLeaks, all of us who covered Hillary Clinton. I would interview people, and they couldn't tell me what was so damning about WikiLeaks, but just the word itself had a connotation that had been created from a branding campaign by Republicans. And, of course, we don't talk about WikiLeaks anymore.
Laura Barron-Lopez: A lot of potentially just smoke and mirrors and revenge, which we know that former President Trump has also been talking to them, saying that he wants them to go down this path.
But, Weijia, the White House has been preparing for this. They've been waiting for this. House Republicans haven't set a deadline. So, this inquiry could go on for as long as they wanted to. How is the White House preparing for that?
Weijia Jiang: Well, as you mentioned, they already have a very robust war room that they had before it became an official inquiry. And I think that the strategy has largely remained the same, which is trying to discredit the investigators, discredit the investigation and focus on what the president is doing.
As we've been talking about tonight, when you hear anyone from the White House talk about this, their main point is that there is no evidence. And so they use that to frame this as a political witch hunt. And they also point to the fact that they can't even get the votes to have a vote about this, because there are Republicans in McCarthy's own party who disagree with moving ahead with this.
So, they're trying to put more attention on what the president is doing. But the question is whether that's enough to overcome how this could be impacting the public opinion of Joe Biden, who largely, until now, I mean, was pretty pristine. I mean, when it comes to something that might question, you know, whether he had committed high crimes and misdemeanor. So, I think just that question alone being out there obviously impacts the White House in a way.
But they are prepared. They're ramping up their attacks. They are even asking formally news organizations to, you know, hear their talking points. They listed them out, sent them out to network presidents as an example. So, they're really trying to get their points across.
Laura Barron-Lopez: Right. In that memo that they sent out, they also detailed some of the facts that you highlighted, Leigh Ann, which was that some of Hunter Biden's own former associate said there's nothing here, that the president never discussed business with his son.
But this impeachment inquiry was meant to win over these far right Republicans. McCarthy announced it to win them over to try to then get them to agree to fund the government, and it didn't work. I mean, there was expletives hurled, curse words at a behind this closed door meeting.
I mean, is the threat to oust McCarthy, which some of these hardliners are making, is it real?
Leigh Ann Caldwell: So, it is real. There are some in the party who do absolutely want to do it. McCarthy should have been listening to his members before it because I was reporting, and others too, that leading up to this new session, these hard line Republicans were saying, yes, we want impeachment but McCarthy giving us impeachment is not going to solve the financial, the debt crisis either. And so we all knew that these were not going to be connected and these far right Republicans are continuing to keep impeachment and the budget issues separate.
But as far as McCarthy's threat to his speakership, whether it's a possibility that he could actually lose his job, because, let's remember, there needs to be 218 votes to remove him from his position, and he still has a support of a large swath of the party, but McCarthy is governing under the fear of losing his gavel. And so he is placating repeatedly over the last several months and especially now the far right to address that fear.
But most of these people they want what they want, they usually don't fund the -- vote to fund the government, they usually don't fund or vote to fund short-term spending bills, so he's trying to negotiate with people who are never going to come to the table
Laura Barron-Lopez: Right, negotiating with hostage takers even though they may not be willing to ultimately vote for this in the end.