House Republicans kicked off the long-promised investigation into the Biden administration Wednesday with hearings on border issues and pandemic spending, stating their case and providing a likely preview of the next two years.
Democrats also had the opportunity to demonstrate how aggressive they intend to be in responding to GOP-led investigations.
The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), opened with a Republican hearing called “The Biden Border Crisis: Part I,” while the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, led by Rep. James Comes (R-Ky.), held a hearing on waste, fraud and abuse in federal pandemic spending.
House Republicans have vowed to investigate the Biden administration’s policies on the US-Mexico border since they secured a narrow majority in November’s midterm elections.
And Jordan and his fellow Republicans on the Judiciary Committee addressed President Biden at Wednesday’s hearing, reiterating their frequent complaint that the president’s policies have made the border unsafe and allowed for an influx of fentanyl and other illegal drugs.
“Under President Trump, the border was secure. Under President Biden, there are no borders and Americans are paying the price,” Jordan said in his keynote address.
Republicans have repeatedly pointed to an increase in illegal border crossings under Biden. There were more than 250,000 meetings at the southern border in December, the highest level yet under the Biden presidency, according to newly released data from US Customs and Border Protection.
In the last fiscal year, there were about 2.4 million encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border, up from about 1.7 million in 2021. While illegal border crossings dropped to about 450,000 in 2020 amid the pandemic of COVID-19, there were just over 850,000 encounters at the border in 2019.
However, Democrats have countered that the blame for the problems facing the southern border cannot be placed solely on Biden.
“This hearing is titled ‘Biden’s Border Crisis.’ This is completely wrong,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said at the hearing Wednesday. “It’s not Biden’s border crisis. This has been a crisis for more than half a century, for Nixon and for every American president after him.”
“The only people who can actually solve this problem are the US Congress by passing legislation,” he added.
Several Democrats also noted that Biden has continued several Trump-era border policies, much to the chagrin of some members of their party. Biden kept the controversial Title 42 policy in place, which allowed the United States to turn away asylum seekers during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The Biden administration has also sought to discourage illegal border crossings with strengthened measures, such as those that prevent people from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti from applying for asylum if they cross the southern border without authorization. Democrats have emphasized the relative success of these policies in reducing border crossings.
The House Oversight and Accountability Committee is set to follow up on the Judiciary Committee’s border policy hearing with its meeting with U.S. Border Patrol agents next week.
Judiciary Committee ranking member Jerry Nadler (DN.Y.) suggested that the panel’s GOP majority “hastily cobbled together” Wednesday’s hearing in an effort to beat the Oversight and Accountability Committee on the boundary issue, in the “latest spat in an ongoing turf war” between the presidents of the two colleges.
But the fireworks across the hall started before attention even turned to the border, with an hour-long debate over an amendment to the panel rules that would require members to recite the oath of allegiance every time it meets.
Democrats attempted to change the amendment — introduced by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) — to prevent anyone who supported an insurrection from leading the committee into the effort, and Nadler objected, noting that members of the Room already recite the pledge on the floor every day.
Lawmakers debated the issue across the aisle in a heated back-and-forth before the amendment passed unanimously in the GOP-led committee, without the insurrectionist clarification.
Rep. David Cicilline (DR.I.) ultimately led the jury in the pledge, before the committee jumped into the rest of the hearing.
On Wednesday, new supervisory chair James Comer (R-Ky.) also kicked off the first panel hearing of the new Congress, aimed at probing federal spending for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Comer quickly became a prominent player in the new GOP House majority, leading the Oversight Committee joined by fiery Republican Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Andy Biggs (Arizona), and Paul Gosar (Colo.). arizona .).
The Kentucky Republican has vowed to probe the Biden administration on a number of issues and has also set sights on investigating Biden’s family business and the recent discovery of classified documents at Biden’s home and in an old office. The judiciary will also look into document management.
Comer dodged questions about why the oversight panel won’t scrutinize former President Trump for similar handling of classified documents.
On Tuesday, Oversight examined pandemic-era relief programs — money distributed as loans, grants or through unemployment insurance — aimed at keeping Americans afloat as COVID-19 hit the country, which according to Republicans was a waste of funds and vulnerable to abuse.
“We owe Americans to identify how hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars spent under the guise of pandemic relief have been lost to waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement,” Comer said.
Congress greenlighted trillions in COVID-19 relief efforts in the early days of the pandemic during the Trump administration, but more than 1,000 people have since pleaded guilty or been convicted of defrauded government relief programs.
Democrats during the hearing did not object to overseeing the programs, but they did object to their GOP counterparts setting the issue.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) pointed out that oversight Republicans had sent pre-hearing letters only to California, Pennsylvania and her home state of New York probing their insurance systems against unemployment and argued the methodology behind targeting only the trio of blue states “is highly questionable”.
Rep. Mike Garcia (D-Calif.) said the committee’s new GOP majority will spend the next two-year session attempting to “rewrite history” and “absolve themselves of any decisions made in the past two years in order to fit to their political narrative”.
Garcia suggested that House Republicans, who initially supported unemployment benefits during the pandemic, switch sides when Biden took the White House away from Trump.
“What has changed is that we have had President Biden. My hunch is that if it was President Trump, they probably would have voted to extend those benefits yet again,” Garcia said.
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