Washington: The Republican-controlled US House of Representatives voted Wednesday to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden based on his son's controversial international dealings - a move Biden himself slammed as a "baseless" stunt.
Republicans have yet to provide evidence of corruption by the president, and the Democratic-led Senate would be unlikely to convict the US leader even if the inquiry did lead to an actual impeachment trial.
Regardless, the procedure guarantees Republicans a new, high-profile platform to attack Biden as he campaigns for reelection in 2024 - and to distract from the federal criminal trials facing his almost certain challenger Donald Trump.
The vote of 221 to 212 was along strict party lines, with every Republican voting for it and every Democrat against.
Conservatives accuse Biden's troubled son Hunter of influence-peddling - effectively trading on the family name in pay-to-play schemes during his business dealings in Ukraine and China.
The allegations against Hunter Biden refer to incidents that took place before his father became president, and the White House has stressed there has been no wrongdoing.
Biden himself responded immediately after the vote, accusing Republicans of stalling on a multitude of key fronts while obsessing over a desire to score political points against a president running for reelection in 2024.
"Instead of doing anything to help make Americans' lives better, they are focused on attacking me with lies," Biden said in a lengthy statement.
"Instead of doing their job on the urgent work that needs to be done, they are choosing to waste time on this baseless political stunt that even Republicans in Congress admit is not supported by facts."
Republicans for their part insist the work has merit.
"As President Biden continues to stonewall lawful Congressional subpoenas, today's vote of the full House of Representatives authorizing the inquiry puts us in the strongest position to enforce these subpoenas in court," said House Republican Elise Stefanik a member of party leadership.
Hunter Biden, whose chaotic personal life and business dealings have become a magnet for right-wing conspiracy theories and media investigations, issued an angry statement in Washington.
"My father was not financially involved in my business," he said.
A Yale-trained lawyer and lobbyist-turned-artist whose life has been marred by personal tragedy, alcoholism and crack cocaine addiction, Hunter Biden was speaking to reporters from Capitol Hill, after refusing to attend a closed-door hearing led by Republicans just inside.
Egged on by Trump - who was impeached twice, including for his attempts to overturn the results of his 2020 election loss to Biden - the Republican Party first began probing a possible Biden impeachment earlier this year. Hearings began late September, leading to the decision to hold Wednesday's vote.
House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer charged Wednesday that the investigations so far have "revealed how Joe Biden knew of, participated in, and benefited from his family cashing in on the Biden name around the world."
Experts interviewed during the proceedings, however, said there was no evidence to justify a Biden impeachment.
And Democrats say the Republicans are playing pure politics.
"There is zero evidence that President Biden has engaged in any wrongdoing," House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said Tuesday.
The Republicans, however, say that by triggering the full inquiry they will gain new legal powers allowing them to find the evidence they need.
"It's time to get the American people answers," Speaker of the House Mike Johnson said on X, formerly Twitter.
The US Constitution provides that Congress may remove a president for "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors."
Impeachment by the House, which is the political equivalent of a criminal indictment, would spark a trial by the Senate, with the president losing his job if convicted - an unlikely scenario for Biden given the chamber's Democratic control.
Although three US presidents have been impeached - Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1998, and Trump in 2019 and 2021 - none has ever been removed from office by the Senate.
Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 in the face of an almost certain impeachment in the fallout of the Watergate scandal.
House Republicans started an impeachment inquiry in September, and they have now formalised it with an official floor vote Wednesday. Legal experts say the vote doesn't change much; it's more of a symbolic show of unity among Republicans.
What House Republicans are investigating?
Republicans have not said yet what alleged high crimes and misdemeanors they would try to impeach Biden for - or whether they even have the votes to do it. Their investigation is almost entirely focused on his son Hunter Biden, who Republicans allege tried to leverage his family name to benefit his business deals. Three Republican-led congressional committees have spent nearly a year investigating whether the president benefited from his son's business deals. So far they haven't found any evidence that Biden benefited. But Republicans claim there is more to uncover.
Why House Republicans are doing this now?
House Republicans say they needed to formalise the impeachment inquiry with a vote because it gives them stronger legal footing if they go to court or try to compel someone with a subpoena.
But impeachment, of course, is an inherently political process. Republicans just elected a hard-right House speaker in Mike Johnson. Former president Donald Trump keeps urging Republicans to impeach Biden. And it's almost an election year, with polls a year out suggesting that Trump could beat Biden.