Before we get too far into the incoming House Republican majority’s plans for putting pressure on President Biden, consider this tweet from the party’s caucus on the House Judiciary Committee.
But why tweet it in the first place? Why is it useful for the minority caucus of a House committee to publish a social media post obviously aimed at ginning up attention from Republican and right-wing users? What’s the point? What’s the value?
The answer, of course, is specifically that it attracts attention — a central focus of the committee’s leaders, if not the preeminent one.
On Thursday, House Judiciary Committee ranking Republican member Jim Jordan (Ohio) participated in a news conference at which his party outlined its plans to investigate Hunter Biden, the president’s son. The Republican minority on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform published a document that it suggested offered sufficient predicate for a probe, including that “Biden Family Members and Associates [were] Profiting Off Public Office.”
“Republicans’ inquiry quickly established that few in the President’s extended family have failed to capitalize on their relationship with Joe Biden.”“From Valerie Biden Owens, the President’s ‘sister, confidante, and longtime political strategist,’ penning a book about the Biden family shortly after the inauguration to Francis ‘Frank’ Biden ‘promot[ing] his relationship to the commander-in-chief in an Inauguration Day advertisement for the law firm he advises[,]’ the Biden family’s monetization of the President’s time in Washington is well documented.”
Contrasting that with the activity of Trump family members is left as an exercise to the reader.
Much of the document (titled “A President Compromised: The Biden Family Investigation”) centers on the decision by social media companies to limit a New York Post story about emails and photographs believed to have originated on a laptop owned by Hunter Biden — certainly a tangent to an investigation of the Bidens, if connected at all.
At the news conference, Jordan highlighted that aspect of the story. He suggested that the media’s presentation of the material from Hunter Biden had evolved in a way that increasingly proved him and the GOP right about its significance. That’s not the case. Most outlets were blocked from reviewing the material at the time, making it difficult to report on the contents. (Fox News itself passed on the story.) When The Washington Post obtained the material, we were able to validate some but not all of it. But here was Jordan trying to score rhetorical points on a sidebar issue almost entirely unrelated to the Bidens as he and his party outlined what they were planning when they become the majority in 2023.
But the news conference did do what news conferences are designed to do: get media attention. Specifically, Jordan and Oversight ranking Republican member James Comer (Ky.) were invited onto Fox News’s prime time programming to explain their arguments. Arguments, you will not be surprised to learn, that Hannity and other Fox News hosts have been making for months.
There’s a pattern to the investigatory process here. Back in 2013 and 2014, with Republicans in control of the House, there were a slew of investigations into the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012. That story drew a lot of attention on Fox News itself; there was an often-explicit feedback loop between the network and the focus of the investigations.
Those investigations got lucky: They discovered that Hillary Clinton, secretary of state at the time of the attacks, had been using a private email server while serving in the Cabinet. That spawned its own obsessive coverage, up until the day that Clinton lost her 2016 presidential bid to Trump.
This wasn’t a coincidence.
“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — probably the next speaker — said in 2015. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”
Republicans were out of power in the House from 2019 to the present. But Fox News continued hammering themes that were picked up by GOP representatives.
One was that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election was contrived or dishonest, something that prompted Fox News to spend a great deal of time talking about special counsel John Durham, tasked with investigating the investigation and proving rot in the Justice Department. He was unable to do so, but gave Fox News plenty to talk about.
The other theme was Hunter Biden and his laptop. (There was also a blip of Hunter Biden coverage back in 2019. This is when Fox News and Republicans — including Jordan — were trying to deflect the impeachment investigation into Trump by suggesting that his demand for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens was valid.) If you are a politician looking to make an appearance on Fox News or get the attention of a Fox News-watching audience, these are subjects that will probably do the trick.
It should go without saying that it is good for Congress to conduct investigations into presidents and other officials. That’s true even if the investigations are nakedly partisan; sometimes the sort of assumption of guilt that accompanies such probes unearths real wrongdoing that might otherwise have been overlooked. And there are legitimate questions about Hunter Biden’s business activities — though the Justice Department is currently looking at his actions, too.
The House Republican effort, though, can’t be separated from the eagerness with which members of the party’s caucus are explicitly appealing to the Fox News/right-wing-media echo chamber. After Thursday’s news conference, numerous observers scratched their heads about the timing: The party had just had that electoral underperformance thanks in part to a universe of rhetoric that mirrored what was being amplified at the news conference. In response, the party was pledging to use its power to double down on the claims from that universe?
Yes. In part because it fits with the pre-2016 and pre-2020 pattern of targeting a presidential opponent. And in part because doing so guarantees that Republican officials will get retweets and Fox News hits and coverage on the network that keeps them at the center of attention.
If they discover something nefarious along the way? Even better.