The looming U.S. government shutdown that some hardline Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, are cheering for could slow one of their other priorities: the recently launched impeachment inquiry of Democrat President Joe Biden.
Republican House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy launched the inquiry on Sept. 12, an escalation after months of probes into Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, with the first hearing set for Sept. 28 — just two days before the shutdown deadline.
Most congressional staffers are expected to remain at work if the government partially shuts down after Sept. 30, when funding runs out — that's in part because only Congress has the authority to pass legislation to fund and re-open the government.
But the White House plays by different rules and will likely send home as many employees as possible in a bid to heighten pressure on Congress to act — and that could include staff who would respond to requests for information, lawmakers said.
That's a possibility McCarthy had warned about in August, when he was still trying to persuade his caucus not to move ahead with an immediate impeachment inquiry.
"If we shut down, all of government shuts it down, investigation and everything else," McCarthy said in an interview with Fox News.
A spokesperson for the speaker did not respond to a request for comment.
In a 2018-2019 shutdown, the White House furloughed 1,100 of 1,800 staff in the Executive Office of the President. The impeachment inquiry is focused on Hunter Biden's foreign business dealings. House Republicans alleged that Joe Biden benefited from his son's work but have produced no evidence of that. The White House says Joe Biden has done nothing wrong and that Republicans have no basis for the inquiry.
"They should answer for their own backwards priorities that are hurting the American people so they can play politics," said Ian Sams, a White House spokesman.
House Republicans say they plan to seek personal and business records for Hunter Biden and James Biden, the president's brother, and to seek testimony from certain officials.
"Whether the government gets shut down or not, we're going to continue to do our work, whether it's individually or as a committee as a whole," said Troy Nehls, a Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, one of the three panels at the center of the inquiry.
Multiple Republican lawmakers said they thought a shutdown could slow the probe.
"There's no question at all that the administration will not answer any questions and use a shutdown as an excuse to say they sent home the people who would answer," said Darrell Issa, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and a former chairman of the Oversight panel. "So can we ask the questions? Yes. Are they going to deliver witnesses that they have control over, or answers? Probably not."
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