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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Meet the congressman planning House Republicans’ Hunter Biden investigation

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

🚨 NEW THIS MORNING: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) is leaving the Democratic Party and is registering as an independent.  “I’ve never fit neatly into any party box. I’ve never really tried. I don’t want to,” she told CNN. “Removing myself from the partisan structure — not only is it true to who I am and how I operate, I also think it’ll provide a place of belonging for many folks across the state and the country, who also are tired of the partisanship.”

CNN reports that Sinema declined to say whether she would continue to caucus with the Democrats, but she suggested she would. “She did note … that she expects to keep her committee assignments — a signal that she doesn’t plan to upend the Senate composition, since Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer controls committee rosters for Democrats,” CNN reports.

Safe to say her decision and any possible fallout will be the big political news in Washington today. Stay tuned …

Good morning, Early Birds. Former Illinois governor Rod R. Blagojevich (D) was arrested 14 years ago today. Tips: earlytips@washpost.com. Thanks for waking up with us.

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In today’s edition …  Meet the congressman planning the Hunter Biden investigation … Ukraine lobbies lawmakers as worries grow about continued support for the war with Russia … K Street move … What we’re watching: The Jan. 6 committee will meet Sunday to decide on criminal referrals …

On the Hill

Meet the congressman planning House Republicans’ Hunter Biden investigation

Eleven questions for … Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.): We spoke with the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, who’s set to become chairman in January, about his top investigative priorities, looking into “woke” companies and why the White House should cooperate with the committee’s investigation of President Biden’s son, Hunter.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

The Early: You told “Meet the Press” last month that the House Oversight Committee would “investigate between 40 and 50 different things.” How are you prioritizing investigations?

Comer: I said we had the capacity to investigate 40 to 50 things. We’re very fortunate that we have a quality staff. We have a large staff. Going from the minority to the majority means even more staff. So we're going to have the bandwidth and the capacity to have that many investigations and probes. There's a difference, in my mind, between a probe and an investigation. A probe is looking for information and if we feel it warrants going to the next level, then the probe will then go to an investigation.

The Early: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) outlined House Republicans’ investigative targets this week, including the Department of Homeland Security, Twitter, Google, Facebook, China, U.S. aid to Ukraine, the origins of covid-19, the Justice Department, the FBI, the Biden administration’s energy policies and the IRS. Have you figured out which committees will handle which investigations?

Comer: We’re working on that. I’m in communication with the other committee chairs. I pretty much have an idea of who will handle what. We’re the Oversight Committee, so we're going to handle the majority of those that you mentioned — but not all.

The Early: How soon should we expect the first oversight hearings in January?

Comer: As soon as possible. I don’t know what’s going to happen on Jan. 3 [when the House will meet to elect the next speaker]. I’m like everyone else — I’m hoping for the best. But we’ve got a couple of different hearings that we feel are ready to go. We would like to have a committee hearing every week that we're in session.

The Early: Which hearings are ready to go?

Comer: We’re ready to go with a hearing with respect to some of the covid funds. There’s been no oversight over the hundreds of billions and trillions of dollars spent in the name of covid over the past three years. That will be one of the first hearings. You’ll remember a few weeks ago when McCarthy went to the border, he said he was going to put Jordan and Comer in charge of investigating the debacle at the southern border. We're ready to go definitely out of the gate on covid funds and [the] border crisis.

The Early: Do you plan to investigate the covid relief efforts during the first year of the pandemic under the Trump administration as well as the ones under the Biden administration?

Comer: Yes. I’ve said covid spending has been across the past three years and that covers two administrations.

The Early: Republicans have been increasingly critical of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and “woke corporations” in recent years. Which investigation should corporate America be most concerned about that House Republicans will pursue?

Comer: I can just speak for myself here. I think a company has the right to be woke if they want. But if the government is forcing these companies to be woke, if government regulators or government agencies or government policy are forcing these companies to adopt all of these woke policies, then we have a problem with that. We're going to try to determine if some of these companies are enacting this woke policy because of the heavy hand of the federal government.

The Early: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock’s reelection in Georgia means Democrats will have 51 votes, giving them subpoena power, too. How much overlap, if any, do you expect between House Republicans’ investigations and Senate Democrats’ investigations?

Comer: I’ve already met with my counterpart in the Senate, Sen. [Gary] Peters [(D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee]. We had a very cordial conversation. We didn’t get into the subpoenas. We got into policy. We tried to identify our areas of common ground. I’m sure they’re going to be investigating things. If history is any indication of where the Democrats could go, they're going to continue to investigate Donald Trump in some form or fashion.

The Early: You’ve criticized Democrats on the House Oversight Committee for investigating matters beyond its purview over the past two years, including the Washington Commanders and abortion access. Do you think the investigation that you're planning of Hunter Biden falls outside the committee's mandate at all?

Comer: Absolutely not. We’re concerned about national security. This is an investigation of Joe Biden. The reason we’re investigating Joe Biden is to determine if this president and this White House are compromised, because of the millions of dollars that his family has received from our adversaries in China, Russia and Ukraine.

The Early: Do you plan on investigating Washington’s influence industry more broadly, or will the investigation be focused solely on Hunter Biden's business deals?

Comer: Right now we’re focusing on Joe Biden. We’ll be looking into Hunter and Jim Biden — people forget about Jim, he’s just as bad as Hunter — with respect to influence-peddling. Sometimes these investigations uncover other areas that need to be looked into, so we'll see what happens. I'm hoping that at the end of this investigation, there's a legislative fix as to define what exactly is influence-peddling and what should be legal, what should not be legal.

The Early: When you say you envision passing legislation, do you envision that legislation would focus on presidents and or would it apply more broadly to the influence industry?

Comer: I think it'll apply to everything. We don't need to have anyone in a high-level position in the federal government that’s in a position to be compromised. If you don't clearly define what is legal and what is not legal, then whomever the next president  is always going to have a relative that will be eager to take money from China or Russia.

We need to have very thorough disclosure laws so we know, if [a president’s] immediate family members are doing business with [a foreign] country, this is exactly what they’re doing. These are the terms of the agreement. This is what they're selling over there. This was what their sales were before their relative became president. This is what their sales were once he became president.

The Early: The White House has signaled that it’s unlikely to cooperate with the Hunter Biden investigation. How do you plan to deal with any potential White House stonewalling?

Comer: I’m hopeful that when I have the gavel, they'll change their opinion. I don't think I'm going to ask for anything that's unrealistic. This is a substantive investigation. I think we've outlined exactly why we're doing this and exactly what we want to know. At the end of the day, if the White House works with us, this shouldn't be a very lengthy investigation and we can move on.

Ukraine lobbies lawmakers as worries grow about continued support for war with Russia

Flying in: A Ukrainian delegation met with lawmakers and Biden administration officials this week in an effort to lobby Washington for more air defenses and ensure that lawmakers continue to support Ukraine’s war effort.

The Ukrainians met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.); Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the House minority whip; Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.); Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Mike Garcia (R-Calif.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) and Jason Crow (D-Colo.); and Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, among others.

The visit comes as 22 Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted Tuesday for a resolution sponsored by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to audit U.S. aid to Ukraine. The measure didn’t pass, but McCarthy has said Republicans plan to audit Ukraine aid once they reclaim the House majority next year.

Two Ukrainian lawmakers — Anastasia Radina, a member of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, and Yulia Klymenko, a member of the Holos party — told reporters Thursday that Ukraine wasn’t opposed to efforts to audit U.S. aid and that they had invited members of Congress to travel to Ukraine and monitor how the aid is being spent themselves.

“Generally, as a country, on the track of all our reforms, we are very open to basically any accountability mechanism,” Radina said.

All the Republicans with whom the Ukrainians met were supportive of the war effort, Klymenko added.

“We got assurance that all of them will support Ukraine and [the] Ukrainian effort for victory,” she said.

On K Street

The American Clean Power Association is announcing today that Jason Grumet will be its next chief executive. Grumet founded the Bipartisan Policy Center in 2007. ACP is a clean-energy trade association with more than 750 members.

ICYMI

White House Climate Envoy John F. Kerry and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) both said that countries around the world are falling short on climate change. “There aren’t many legislatures in the world that are prepared to put up public money in the sums that we need,” Kerry said.

Romney advocated for a price on carbon to solve climate change. “The reason for a price on carbon is to create massive incentive for the private sector to innovate,” he told Leigh Ann at The Washington Post’s event on climate.

You also don’t want to miss Leigh Ann’s conversation with actor Seth Rogen and Lauren Miller Rogen on caring for aging family members. They came to Washington to garner support for caregivers and said they found out that “aging with dignity is a partisan issue.” 

“It’s been eye-opening that care is a partisan issue and that aging with dignity is a partisan issue, it’s sad and I think it speaks to how everything can become partisan if you simply choose to disagree with every single thing that your opponent says.” – Seth Rogen (Video: Washington Post Live)

What we're watching

The House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol is expected to meet virtually on Sunday and finalize their criminal referrals to the Justice Department. The panel is considering issuing referrals for Trump lawyers John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, according CNN’s Annie Grayer, Zachary Cohen and Pamela Brown. The committee will release its final report and vote on the referrals Dec. 21, per CNN.

The Media

Weekend reeeads

Coffee Break(s)

We are waiting for Congress to figure out how to fund the government so we can finally have some time to go through some of these recipes, including this one

Thanks for reading. You can also follow us on Twitter: @theodoricmeyer and @LACaldwellDC.

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