House Republicans appear set on spending the next two years firmly ensconced within the right-wing media bubble, focusing on creating content for its Fox News stars after garnering a slim majority in the midterm elections.
On Thursday morning, just hours after news outlets had projected that Republicans would take control of the lower chamber, Reps. James Comer (R-KY) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) held a news conference detailing what will apparently be the party’s top priority. Their announcement had nothing to do with the issues voters said they cared the most about when they went to the polls, like inflation or abortion rights. Instead, the incoming chairs of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees, with the apparent approval of likely Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), promised to be laser-focused on business deals President Joe Biden’s son Hunter was involved in years ago.
As they spoke, the caucus’ official Twitter account was tweeting catchphrases that are incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t spend a significant amount of time in the right-wing information ecosystem.
Fox News hosts and their fellow travelers have been trying to use Hunter Biden’s business dealings as a cudgel against his father since before he launched his run for president. That fixation ultimately triggered Fox’s obsession and then-President Donald Trump’s first impeachment for corruptly using his power to try to force Ukraine to launch a spurious investigation into the Bidens. The story returned to the fore in the closing weeks of the 2020 presidential election as part of a last-ditch effort by Rupert Murdoch’s outlets to use revelations from the alleged “Hunter Biden laptop” to keep Trump in office. And as Election Day 2022 approached, right-wing outlets were rife with demands for Republicans to use the power they might gain to scrutinize what they term the “Biden Crime Family.”
Indeed, Thursday’s event seemed made-to-order for the right-wing press, which rewarded the House Republican leaders with fawning coverage and airtime.
Fox prime time host Sean Hannity opened his program that night by crowing that “Republicans now have control of the House and soon, for the first time in two years, this administration will finally get their feet held to the fire” before spending several segments purporting to explain how “the big guy himself, Joe Biden” had “ended up using his crack-addicted son as a bag man.” He aired clips from Comer and Jordan speaking at the news conference, then rewarded Comer with an interview, which he concluded by thanking the congressman “for your hard work and your willingness to take on a hard topic.” During the next hour, host Laura Ingraham also touted the event and aired clips before bringing on Jordan.
While the planned Hunter Biden probe was the story of the day, House Republicans reportedly have several other Fox-fever-swamp friendly investigations in the pipeline, including inquiries into the purported politicization of the Justice Department and FBI; Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top infectious disease adviser during the COVID-19 epidemic, and even into Nancy Pelosi and the Justice Department “for their treatment of defendants jailed in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.”
There’s a problem with this Republican strategy: the Fox hosts and other right-wing figures who are itching for these investigations are weirdos who are dramatically out of step with the country. Normal people don’t seem to care about Hunter Biden’s finances – only 28% of respondents said that they should be a “top priority” in a new Morning Call/Politico survey.
Republicans expected a “red tsunami” that would give the party sizable majorities in both houses of Congress. Instead, Democrats held the Senate, and while the GOP flipped the House, their margin was so small and the rump of the caucus so extreme as to make chaos inevitable. Republicans fell short in part because the party’s political leaders were firmly ensconced in the fantasy land of its propagandists.
House Republicans’ planned oversight push shows that they’ve learned little from that experience. And why would they? They have strong personal incentives to push this sort of nonsense.
Members of Congress like Jordan have used Fox airtime as a ladder to power within the GOP. Spouting fever-swamp nonsense serves them well in party primaries, where the endorsements of network stars like Hannity can make or break their candidacies, and will keep them on TV as they ascend the party ranks.
House Republicans’ legislative agenda for the next two years will be doing the bidding of plutocrats. They will try to extend the Trump tax cuts for the rich and make it easier for wealthy tax cheats to get away with their schemes, while slashing Social Security and Medicare. They will pair those policy plans with an oversight agenda geared at filling Fox primetime A-blocks and satiating its audience.