Plus, a reader question about how to regulate adult content online.
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”
Today's read: 13 minutes.
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- Three Israeli hostages were killed by Israeli military forces in Gaza who mistakenly identified them as a threat. Israel's Mossad spy agency met with Qatar's Prime Minister over the weekend to renew a ceasefire deal and negotiate the release of more hostages. (The meetings)
- At least 61 migrants died when a ship they were aboard sank off the coast of Libya. The migrants were reportedly en route to Europe. (The accident)
- A staffer to Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) was fired after he was caught filming a sex tape in a Senate hearing room. (The scandal)
- Senate negotiators continue to make progress on a deal to tie U.S.-Mexico border policy to military funding for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan. (The negotiations)
- A jury ordered Rudy Giuliani to pay $148 million in damages to two Georgia election workers for defaming them with allegations they helped Biden win the 2020 election. Giuliani vowed to appeal and stood by his assertions about the women outside the courthouse. (The ruling)
Biden's impeachment inquiry. On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled House voted to formally authorize its impeachment inquiry into President Biden, likely increasing its ability to enforce subpoenas and throwing Congress into its third presidential impeachment of the last seven years.
The vote to formally launch the inquiry passed along party lines 221-212 and came just hours after President Biden's son Hunter defied a congressional subpoena to testify on Capitol Hill. Hunter arrived in Washington D.C. and challenged Republicans to depose him publicly rather than privately, saying he would not allow them to use his closed door testimony against him out of context. Republicans vowed to hold him in contempt of Congress.
So far, Republicans have heard testimony that President Biden met with his son's business associates before being elected but have not uncovered any evidence he had ties to his overseas business dealings or ever profited from them. House Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-KY), who has repeatedly accused Hunter and other Biden family members of engaging in shady business practices, concedes he has not brought forward any concrete evidence of wrongdoing or influence peddling. Still, Republicans say there is enough circumstantial evidence that further investigation is needed.
Republicans are also accusing the White House of weaponizing the Department of Justice and other federal agencies to protect Biden's family. In July, two IRS agents publicly testified that the U.S. Attorney for Delaware and other federal prosecutors were slow-walking a tax evasion investigation into Hunter Biden, which resulted in a collapsed plea deal for tax evasion and a gun charge. Last week, Hunter was indicted on new charges that he had evaded taxes on millions of dollars in income from foreign firms.
President Biden said Republicans are choosing to "waste time" on a baseless political stunt and attacking him with lies. Democrats have remained united around the president, saying Republicans are simply trying to damage him ahead of the 2024 election and seeking payback for the impeachments of former President Donald Trump.
“No amount of evidence could convince Republicans that President Biden did nothing wrong because they’re not looking for truth, they’re looking for revenge,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) said.
Plenty of Republicans concede they do not yet have the evidence to impeach Biden, but say formalizing the inquiry will allow them to seek that evidence out. “We need to have a formal inquiry to get the information. And I do not directly think this is going to lead to an impeachment,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) said.
Below, we’ll get into the arguments from the left and right about the inquiry, then my take.
What the left is saying.
- The left criticizes the impeachment inquiry as a baseless attack on Biden meant only to appease Trump and the GOP base.
- Some suggest Republicans are improperly conflating the alleged crimes of Hunter Biden with his father.
- Others say the inquiry will fail to produce any evidence of wrongdoing and end up benefiting Biden in next year’s election.
In New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore said “the Biden impeachment inquiry is about placating the MAGA base.”
“This ‘inquiry’ is at best an authorization of a fishing expedition for evidence of misconduct that doesn’t seem to exist at the moment. At worst, it’s a phony-baloney procedure,” Kilgore wrote. “The fact that the vote to formalize the impeachment inquiry was unanimously Republican tells you a lot about its ultimate meaninglessness. It was the last step the conference could take without consequences that might discomfit House members in competitive 2024 districts. Thus, announcements of support for this step were often coupled with declarations that nobody has the kind of dirt on Biden that might justify impeachment.”
“Many Republicans believe the two Trump impeachments represented an abuse of the impeachment power. But the decision also represents a nod to the GOP’s MAGA base, which shares the 45th president’s thirst for vengeance,” Kilgore added. “Moving as far toward a first impeachment as the House balance of power allows provides the only morsel of nourishment the congressional GOP is in a position to give to Trump and his minions… Conversely, voting for this empty gesture is sort of the price of admission for non-Trumpy House Republicans, who can now scoff at it without earning themselves a primary opponent.”
The Washington Post editorial board wrote “the Hunter Biden indictment is sound. The Joe Biden impeachment inquiry is not.”
“The Justice Department has strong criminal cases against Hunter Biden for allegedly failing to pay federal taxes, claiming false deductions and lying about his drug use on paperwork to buy a gun. Congress, by contrast, lacks any reasonable basis for moving forward with impeachment against President Biden over his son’s dubious business dealings and personal conduct,” the board said. “This major step is retaliation for the two impeachments of President Donald Trump, both of which had legitimate grounding, and a play to make Mr. Biden appear as tainted as Mr. Trump ahead of the 2024 election.”
“While Hunter Biden used the illusion of access to make money, and coarsely invoked his father in text messages seeking payment from a Chinese business associate, that does not mean Joe Biden took official acts at the behest of his son. The legal process will now decide Hunter Biden’s fate, but, on the current evidence, the sins of the son should not be visited upon the father,” the board wrote. “Oversight is an essential role for Congress, but impeachment should be reserved for egregious misconduct by a president in office.”
In The New Republic, Michael Tomasky argued the inquiry “will do more to reelect Biden than anything Biden could do himself.”
“The 118th Congress will impeach Joe Biden, a completely blameless Joe Biden; a Joe Biden whose only known ‘crime’ has been to make the occasional bad judgment in defense of his deeply troubled son but who, in 50 years of public life, has never once been credibly accused of pocketing a dirty dollar,” Tomasky wrote. “The good news is that this will backfire like a badly tuned 1975 Pontiac Grand Am.”
“These people are disgusting. And next November, they’ll learn that the American people see through them. I’m old enough to remember how badly the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton backfired against the Republicans,” Tomasky said. “Bring this impeachment on. It will fill the news, expose these cranks, reveal their profound cynicism — and do more to reelect Joe Biden than anything Biden himself could do.”
What the right is saying.
- The right mostly believes enough evidence has been brought forward to justify an impeachment inquiry but are mixed on whether it is prudent to do so.
- Some argue Republicans have uncovered enough evidence of potential wrongdoing to justify this move.
- Others suggest the impeachment effort is a waste of time and say voters should be the ones to decide Biden’s future.
In The Wall Street Journal, Kimberley A. Strassel wrote about “the path to Biden impeachment.”
“Impeachment, once rolling, takes on momentum like the boulder in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’ The more evidence Republicans collect, the greater the pressure will be to impeach Mr. Biden. But is it warranted, and is it worth it?,” Strassel asked. “Absent a smoking gun, however, there is a risk that the solemn tool of impeachment gets watered down so that it amounts to a partisan House censure of the presidents… Democrats kicked this off with their 2019 impeachment of Mr. Trump over his Ukraine dealings, and it’s eye-rolling to hear them whine that Republicans are ‘weaponizing’ and ‘abusing’ impeachment.
“Impeachment might also pose a political risk to the GOP. Mr. Biden is unpopular, thanks to his own poor governance. Would Americans — especially those in swing districts — appreciate a formal impeachment? Or might there be a backlash from voters who feel lawmakers don’t trust them to make their own decision about Joe’s fitness at the ballot box,” Strassel wrote. “What’s already beyond doubt is that it’s the past and current actions of this White House and the president’s son that have led the country to this new moment of political and constitutional upheaval.”
National Review's editors said “the most important thing is that the investigation keeps going.”
"At the end of the day, the House investigation into the Biden influence-peddling business is about uncovering as many facts as possible for the sake of public accountability and, in sheer political terms, convincing the public the president was part of an inherently corrupt scheme to profit off his influence and prominence (since this seems pretty clearly to be true)," they said. "Impeachment might help by bringing some more attention to the investigation. But it also adds an element of complexity since the standard no longer is whether what Joe Biden did was dishonest or wrong but whether it constitutes bribery or another high crime or misdemeanor."
"The most important thing is that the investigation keeps going," they added. "Republicans have documented the ungodly amount of foreign money that sluiced through Biden accounts. They have demolished Biden’s lies about not knowing about or being involved in the family business. And they have even produced checks to Joe Biden, including 10 percent, oddly enough, of a $400,000 tranche of Chinese money."
In The Washington Post, Jim Geraghty said impeachment is “pointless,” and House Republicans should instead let Biden’s problems “keep drip, drip, dripping.”
“The ceiling for impeachment appears to be 48 Republican votes, and even that insufficient total is hardly guaranteed. Removal from office would require two-thirds of the Senate, which is an extremely tall order in the current political environment,” Geraghty wrote. “And that feels like a waste of the Senate’s time and energy, particularly as a presidential election year approaches… That, I suspect, is one other reason there’s no burgeoning appetite for impeachment, even as Biden remains unpopular.”
“It isn’t that the complicated series of payments to Biden’s family members — certain to figure prominently in the articles of impeachment — doesn’t stink. It does,” Geraghty said. “But this is the sort of matter that is best left to voters to evaluate. Let them make the call. A steady drip, drip, drip of new information about these payments is likely to be much more harmful to Biden’s chances of a second term than yet another impeachment effort that breaks down along partisan lines.”
Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.
- Hunter is definitely a shady character, but what we know about Joe’s involvement doesn’t justify an impeachment.
- Without any hard evidence it’s hard to see this as anything other than political payback for Trump’s impeachments.
- That said, there is still a lot of smoke around Biden.
In September, when Republicans announced their impeachment inquiry, I said that then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy seemed out over his skis. It turned out that was true, but maybe not for the reasons I was arguing then.
At the time, my reasoning was pretty straightforward: Politically, I genuinely think most of the country is exhausted by the nonstop stream of investigations and impeachment threats. And I think there is a good chance that if Republicans can't "land the plane" here, so to speak, this could blow up on them (the "why are they wasting their time and taxpayer dollars on this when the country needs so much else?" line writes itself). There has been a lot of smoke around the Biden family. Traditionally, though, you need some fire before you take this extraordinary step. Even Republicans admit they don't have that.
One thing I've heard a lot of Republicans say is that Nancy Pelosi lowered the bar for impeachment by going after Trump for his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he appeared to threaten pulling U.S. military support if Ukraine didn't announce an investigation into the Biden family. But that accusation had a lot more meat on the bone; Democrats had a whistleblower in the national security apparatus (Alexander Vindman), a recorded phone call, and a clear narrative: Quid pro quo. Trump dangled aid in exchange for a foreign government going after a political opponent.
Regardless of whether you think what Trump did was an impeachable offense or not — or even if the quid pro quo was real (I happen to think it was) — Democrats had a combination of hard evidence and a simple narrative. And, of course, they were pushing impeachment over something Trump did while he was president. Republicans don't have any of that. So if that trial lowered the bar for impeachment, this is knocking the bar to the ground.
Praveen Fernandes, the Vice President of the Center for Constitutional Accountability, put it this way:
“Despite months of House hearings, the proponents of impeaching President Biden haven’t produced a shred of direct evidence that he did anything legally wrong, let alone anything that meets the high crimes and misdemeanors standard articulated in the Constitution. And this paucity of evidence has reportedly been acknowledged by Speaker Johnson in his communications with his own caucus.”
Again: I have no doubt that Hunter Biden is a shady character, and I’ve said repeatedly as we’ve covered his legal troubles that federal prosecutors and Congress should investigate him with no concern for who his dad is. There is a reason Hunter is facing multiple federal charges in court and fighting many damaging stories in the press right now.
And while there isn’t any fire, there is definitely smoke! Cash was flowing to various bank accounts associated with members of the Biden family. Joe Biden obviously lied that he never discussed business with his son (we’ve since found out he was sometimes in meetings). Emails uncovered on Hunter's laptop referred to money being put aside for "the big guy" (an obvious reference to President Biden).
But the most important question here is not if Biden's son sold his family name to make lucrative business deals, or even if he intended to give some of the profits from those deals to his dad; it's if Republicans can prove Biden was ever actually involved. The second-most important question is whether Biden has committed any high crimes or misdemeanors as president. Senate Republican Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) even warned House Republicans that Biden could not be impeached for actions he took before being elected in 2020. Otherwise, Republicans could at best try something novel and hold him to account for actions he took as vice president.
When pressed on this, nearly every Republican intimately involved in this inquiry has said some version of "we don't have smoking gun evidence, but that is why we need an investigation."
That is actually a pretty simple and straightforward line of argument for formalizing the impeachment inquiry, and I don't necessarily hate it. It's also true that the Biden administration has refused to hand over documents requested by Republicans since we last covered this in September, which in some ways challenged them to formalize this inquiry.
But this all gives away the game before it starts. Some Republicans are citing Hunter Biden's shady business dealings and the president's involvement in them. Others are citing his mishandling of classified documents. Some point to the IRS whistleblowers that accused Biden's Justice Department of obstructing the investigation into Hunter (this, to me, is by far the most damning accusation). But there is no single clear narrative about what they have uncovered and what crime they are pursuing. Instead, it feels a lot like a fishing expedition. Or, as Rep. Troy Nehls (R-TX) said (a little too honestly) when asked to explain the impeachment inquiry, “All I can say is Donald Trump 2024, baby.” Whether Democrats were thinking about the election when they impeached Trump (another argument) should really be independent of whether it is okay for Republicans to be doing that now.
Obviously, Biden does deserve some blame here regardless of how this goes. As vice president, he was incapable of reining in his son, and Hunter's work overseas was always a problem in the Obama administration. Now those chickens are coming home to roost.
A few weeks ago, I went on Bill O'Reilly's show to talk about trust in the media. Before our conversation, he told his viewers what I thought was an honest and reasonable conservative perspective on this issue: The investigation is warranted, but we haven’t seen enough evidence to impeach Biden. And Republicans should tread carefully.
Personally, if I were in the House GOP, I wouldn’t vote for this impeachment inquiry. I’d wait for more evidence or some clarity on what, specifically, we were actually investigating — and on what evidence. But right now, none of those questions seem to matter to them.
Your questions, answered.
Q: I see much duplicity in the way platforms like YouTube are jumping all over the risks of AI-generated content vs. the way they ignore legitimate concerns about the influence of gun-violence related content on young men, pornographic (and porn-adjacent) content on young women, or the simple fact that I can’t watch a Mark Rober video with my kids without risking a terrifying horror-movie trailer. What are your thoughts on the social contract implications of the proliferation of content, free speech vs. public safety tension, and the rights of parents?
And yes, I know no one is “required” to use YouTube, although our kids’ elementary school, our church, and our local city government use it as a sole form of communication for some content.
— Chris from Atlanta, Georgia
Tangle: It’s a really complicated question. The problem you’re posing is this: I don’t want my children subjected to content online that is not appropriate for their age — especially content that they aren’t seeking out, but is seeking them out. Pornographic banner ads on websites and previews for violent films as ads to YouTube videos are two big examples.
And there are a couple of values at odds when you start to think about the response. The right of free speech, the presumption of safety online, parental rights to guardianship online, and the right to privacy or anonymity. Just to try to demonstrate the complexity — and show how I think through the issue — here’s how some of those things are at tension.
If you want to legislate what companies are allowed to advertise, you get into free speech issues quickly, involving the government in private businesses and restricting certain kinds of speech. If you let the situation stay as is, you violate parental protections and the ability for kids to feel like they are safe to browse the internet. If you ask everyone to verify their age and identity, you violate privacy and anonymity.
For government action, I don’t think there’s an easy answer. Which to me indicates that this isn’t a problem best solved by government action.
I could see a couple solutions I’m comfortable with. First, there should probably be a board that quickly reviews and rates advertisements aimed for large audiences on the open web, as we already have with movies. There’s no law saying movies have to be reviewed, but it’s a de facto standard because so many theaters require movies to be rated, which means producers comply with getting their films reviewed.
The second part would be for any online media space that says they want to advertise materials to adults asking the user’s age when they create an account. Yes, anyone could easily sidestep that by lying about their age online — but for the use case you’re asking about, where a parent wants confirmation that only age-appropriate content will be shown to an account they control, I think that’s enough.
I don’t even think the government is required to enforce any of that. The area where I’d want to be the most careful is requiring identification to participate on the open web, and involving the government where we don’t need to. If YouTube just provided that level of validation as a feature, I’m sure the market opportunity alone would make it worthwhile.
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Under the radar.
Leaders in cryptocurrency have poured $78 million into Super PACs aimed at bolstering the ranks of crypto-friendly lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Axios reports. The fundraising groups have raised the money in just three months, giving the industry a massive war chest that rivals more established industries with a year to go until election day. Crypto leaders are hoping to "detoxify" crypto's image in the campaign fundraising world and donate to congressional candidates of both parties who are "pro-innovation, pro-responsible regulation, pro-crypto, pro-blockchain technology," according to an operative. Axios has the story here.
- 6. The number of U.S. presidents who have faced formal impeachment inquiries: James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden.
- 49%. The percentage of Americans who say they are in favor of the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry into President Biden, according to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist University poll released last week.
- 48%. The percentage of Americans who say they disapprove of the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry.
- 44%. The percentage of voters in Congressional districts represented by Republicans but won by President Joe Biden in 2020 who say they would be less likely to vote for a representative who backed the impeachment inquiry into Biden, according to a new poll from Public Policy Polling.
- 52%. The percentage of voters in those districts who say opening an inquiry would be more of a partisan political stunt rather than an effort to hold Biden accountable.
- -6. The net decrease in support for impeachment proceedings against Biden among Republican voters since September, according to Morning Consult.
- +4. The net increase in support for impeachment proceedings against Biden among Democratic voters since September.
- One year ago today we didn't have a newsletter, but we'd just published a subscribers-only interview with Simon Rosenberg, the man who was right about the 2022 midterms.
- The most clicked link in Thursday's newsletter was the ad in our free version for a low-profile hearing aid.
- Not above the law: 1,078 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking if former President Donald Trump is immune from prosecution in Special Counsel Jack Smith's case with 81% strongly believing Trump does not have immunity. 8% mostly believe he does not have immunity, 4% mostly believe he does have immunity, and 4% strongly believe he has immunity. "No one should be above the law, especially politicians," one respondent said.
- Nothing to do with politics: A copy of Beowulf was returned to a Pennsylvania library 54 years late.
- Take the poll. What do you think of the House's impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden? Let us know!
Have a nice day.
The deepwater-feeding megamouth shark is one of the species of sharks that humans know the least about. Since its discovery in 1976, humans have found under 120 individuals total. Now, researchers are learning a whole lot more, as a pregnant megamouth shark was found in the Philippines. The finding confirms that megamouths (Megachasma pelagios) are ovoviviparous — their eggs develop inside the mother’s body and she gives birth to live young. In November, one pup was found alongside the mother while six more fetuses remained inside her body. “Now we know they just have seven pups, compared to whale sharks which have over 300 or tuna which have millions,” says AA Yaptinchay of the Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines. Yaptinchay hopes the news discovery will help researchers understand how best to keep the rarely seen species healthy and non-threatened into the future. NewScientist has the story.
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