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Opinion Welcome to the Congress of endless investigations

Republican members of Congress announce their plans for investigations of the Biden administration on Thursday in Washington. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Now that Republicans have secured a House majority, what will they do with their power? Because Democrats control the Senate and the White House, Republicans can’t pass legislation. But there is one thing they can do: mount investigations. Loud, angry, endless investigations, filled with shocking accusations and desk-pounding outrage.

And they are ready. Every soon-to-be committee chair will get in on the action. C-SPAN may have to add a few extra channels to cover it all. Here’s what’s in the hopper:

The border. Expect hearings that solicit lurid testimony about crimes committed by immigrants, but not much actual policy discussion. Many Republicans want to impeach Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of Homeland Security, not for misdeeds but because they wish the Biden administration’s immigration policies were more like the Trump administration’s.

“Mayorkas deserves [impeachment] for sure, because we no longer have a border,” says Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — a nonsensical claim that shows you the level of sophistication they will bring to this effort. Jordan will probably chair the Judiciary Committee.

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The FBI and Justice Department. In a bizarre turn, Republicans decided that the FBI — perhaps the most conservative agency in the federal government — is a hotbed of leftists and Democratic partisans. They’re planning to probe the alleged “politicization” of the Justice Department.

In addition, the New York Times reports that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and other right-wing lawmakers "extracted a promise” from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for an investigation into whether Jan. 6 defendants have been mistreated.

The IRS. Republicans were incensed that the Inflation Reduction Act included a significant funding increase for the IRS, which will allow it to shore up its aging systems and go after wealthy tax cheats. So they are planning to investigate the agency, perhaps hoping to repeat their previous success in using misleading hearings to justify gutting the IRS budget.

The covid-19 pandemic. Republicans are eager to scrutinize the origins of the coronavirus and the possibility that it escaped from a Chinese lab, which has become an obsession on the right-wing fringe. This is not because they are concerned with improving safety protocols in biomedical research facilities, which is not a particularly exciting challenge to tackle.

Their real goal seems to be to create the impression of a vast conspiracy responsible for the virus, one that would implicate Anthony Fauci, whom Republican candidates often say should be imprisoned or even executed. The Biden administration’s chief adviser on the pandemic will probably be targeted for investigations as well.

Afghanistan. This is one probe that could produce something useful. Why did U.S. military and intelligence agencies overestimate the Afghan government’s ability to sustain itself without an American presence? How could the withdrawal have been carried out more smoothly? What lessons might we learn for the future? But if Republicans explore these questions rather than use the opportunity to simply beat up on the administration, it will be a surprise.

Hunter, Hunter, Hunter. President Biden’s son Hunter will be more than a subject of inquiry. He will be the sun around which the new Republican House revolves: its fixation, its passion, its beginning and its end.

At a news conference Thursday, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), who will probably lead the Oversight Committee, gave reporters a preview of what’s to come, from Hunter’s laptop to Hunter’s emails to Hunter’s prostitutes. “I don’t want this to be about the prostitute,” Comer told reporters, after bringing up the prostitute.

The real intent was perfectly encapsulated when Comer’s back-and-forth with reporters momentarily turned to the Justice Department, and Comer said with exasperation, “If we could keep it about Hunter Biden, that would be great.”

Yes, congressional oversight of the administration is a necessary part of the checks and balances built into the U.S. system. But it can be used for good or ill: discovering truths the public needs to know, or weaponizing the process for political gain.

Republicans know this well. It was McCarthy who said proudly in 2015 that the Republican Congress’s many investigations of Benghazi had proven a success because Hillary Clinton’s “numbers are dropping.”

As we begin this investigation-palooza, McCarthy and the rest of the GOP leadership will be subject to both internal and external pressure, all pushing in the same direction: away from any responsible or useful work for the public, and toward loony conspiracy theories and wild-goose chases in search of presidential misdeeds.

The pressure will come from a House GOP caucus that is even more extreme than before, and from two key outside sources: Donald Trump and the conservative media. They will demand more chaos, more fights, more invented scandals and more conflict.

The more any investigation touches Biden directly, the more exciting it will be for Republicans; it’s the involvement of the president himself that turns a mundane controversy into a top-tier scandal. They already know he is guilty of something (even if they’re not sure what); now they have to convince the public.

If at first they don’t succeed, they’ll try, try again. And again, and again. The ultimate destination may be Biden’s impeachment, but it’s the journey that matters.

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