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How the GOP's Biden investigation can be an opportunity for Democrats

The GOP is now claiming that "influence-peddling legislation," not impeachment, is their goal. So let's see some drafts.

President Joe Biden has been Republicans’ white whale since they reclaimed the House majority last year. But like Captain Ahab, their obsession with impeaching the president has not yielded the hoped-for results. The chairs leading the inquiry are scrambling to figure out next steps after a series of dead ends and embarrassments have left them without enough support for impeachment among their fellow Republicans.

Politico reported Wednesday that after leading the GOP base on for so long, those Republican leaders are now searching for a Plan B to get themselves off the hook. It’s obvious that impeachment was always the goal for House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer, R-Ky. But, in a blatant attempt to save face, he said in an interview that his top priority as the leader of his committee’s Biden investigation has been to “pass influence-peddling legislation.” It’s because Comer’s motivations weren’t noble that I was surprised to see the “influence-peddling legislation” he claims to favor. It looks suspiciously reasonable. From Politico:

Republicans on the committees leading the investigations have outlined a slate of potential proposals stemming from their work. They include tougher financial disclosure laws for family members of presidents and vice presidents, changes to foreign lobbying law, tougher ethics rules and adjusting how classified documents are handled.

Well, don’t threaten me with a good time. We’ve seen no evidence that Biden profited corruptly while vice president from the business dealings of his son Hunter. Not even the special counsel report by Robert Hur on Biden’s mishandling classified information gave Republicans any basis to accuse the president of high crimes or misdemeanors. Still, Biden doesn’t have to have done anything wrong for Congress to shore up the ethical firewall surrounding the presidency.

In fact, if there is Republican “influence-peddling legislation” being planned, then there’d be ample reason for Democrats to jump on board. In doing so, they could help turn what’s been a baseless fishing expedition into something good for the country. After all, Oversight Committee Democrats have presented evidence that former President Donald Trump and his family did profit during his time in office in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. Also, plenty of people in Trump’s orbit have been accused of profiting by acting as undisclosed foreign lobbyists, which led to a slew of federal charges under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Of course, Trump himself is currently under indictment for refusing to return classified documents he held onto after he left office and allegedly obstructing the government’s attempts to retrieve them.

If there is Republican “influence-peddling legislation” being planned, then there’d be ample reason for Democrats to jump on board.

Good laws that seek to limit real abuses would be a tremendous way for this saga to end, given that the GOP’s investigations are based on crimes that Republicans have only imagined Biden committed. That said, if Comer and his fellow investigators are serious about putting together draft legislation, then they’re being awfully secretive about it. No such bills have been introduced, nor is there reason to believe any will be introduced soon.

“We haven’t seen any draft proposals,” a Democratic staffer told me Thursday. “I haven’t heard anything besides that top line talking point Comer has raised on Newsmax and Fox News. I have not seen anything.” Let that be a reminder that it’s always a mistake to base one’s understanding of the GOP’s intentions on their words.

Any legislation that Republicans might draft in an attempt to embarrass Biden would be guaranteed to hurt Trump. That fact greatly reduces the odds that Republicans go down this route. That’s why Democrats, in the spirit of good government, should do it themselves. They can move to close the loopholes that Republicans baselessly say the Biden family exploited. Of course, they’d point out that the president hasn’t done anything wrong, but they can say that they share their Republican colleagues' concerns about the need to strengthen the ethical guardrails surrounding the White House.

As the minority party, it would be nearly impossible to get a markup of this legislation without Comer signing off on it. But, given Comer’s claim that such legislation was always his goal, Democrats should use any future public hearings in the impeachment inquiry to talk about legislation that would better assure Americans that their president isn’t a crook. Republicans would certainly kill such bills in committee, but only after Democrats would have highlighted how entirely unserious the GOP has been.

No one should be so credulous as to believe that Republicans’ probes have ever been anything more than revenge for Trump and an effort to hurt Biden in November. The GOP’s refusal to present the bills they’re supposedly drafting in response to the Biden inquiry shouldn’t be left unchallenged. It’s past time for them to fish or cut bait after months adrift at sea.