The US House of Representatives will open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, its most senior Republican has said.
Kevin McCarthy said the inquiry would focus on “allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption” by Mr Biden.
Republicans have been investigating the president since they took control of the House in January.
The hearings have found no concrete evidence of misconduct by Mr Biden.
They have, however, shed more light on business dealings by the president’s son Hunter Biden, which Republicans say are questionable – and on Mr Biden’s knowledge of his son’s activities.
In a brief statement at the US Capitol, Mr McCarthy said there were “serious and credible” allegations involving the president’s conduct.
“Taken together, these allegations paint a picture of a culture of corruption,” he said.
The White House was quick to condemn to Mr McCarthy’s decision.
“House Republicans have been investigating the President for nine months, and they’ve turned up no evidence of wrongdoing,” White House spokesperson Ian Sams wrote in a social media post.
The struggles and scandals of Hunter Biden
Hunter Biden is currently under federal investigation for possible tax crimes related to his foreign business interests.
Mr McCarthy also alleged that the president’s family has received special treatment from Biden administration officials investigating allegations of misconduct.
This inquiry will give congressional investigators greater legal authority to investigate the president, including by issuing subpoenas for documents and testimony that can be more easily enforced in court.
McCarthy: ‘President Biden did lie to the American people’
The US constitution states a president “shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanours”.
Tuesday’s announcement is the first move in a process that could result in an impeachment vote in the House.
Republicans control the chamber by a narrow 222-212 margin.
But it would almost certainly be shot down by the president’s fellow Democrats, who control the Senate.
Mr Trump, the only US president to have been impeached twice, was acquitted both times by his fellow Republicans after trials in the upper chamber of Congress.
The process is a political one, rather than criminal.
Mr McCarthy, who as Speaker leads Republicans in the House, has been lobbied for weeks by right-wing members to open an impeachment inquiry.
Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida, a close ally of former President Donald Trump, called the announcement “a baby step following weeks of pressure from House conservatives to do more”.
Mr McCarthy is currently trying to shepherd a series of spending bills through the House – measures that must be approved by Congress by the end of September to avoid a partial shutdown of the US government.
The Republican majority in the House is exceedingly narrow, however, which means he can only afford to lose a handful of votes in the face of unified Democratic resistance.
Mr McCarthy’s move to back impeachment could be viewed as an attempt to curry the favour of right-wing House Republicans ahead of the budget battles.
US Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy speaks to reporters outside of his office at the US Capitol Building on 12 September 2023
Speaker McCarthy alleged a “culture of corruption” surrounds the president
Such a strategy comes with risks, however. Centrist Republicans in competitive districts have expressed unease with an aggressive impeachment push, worried that it will alienate the independent and moderate voters who carried them to victory.
Already Democrats are pointing out that Mr McCarthy sharply criticised Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi in 2019, when she announced an impeachment inquiry into Mr Trump without holding a formal vote.
While Mr McCarthy has only said he is approving an impeachment inquiry at this point, pressure will build for a formal authorising vote in the House to set the rules for impeachment hearings.
Such a vote would put those centrists on the record – and provide fodder for Democratic attacks during the November 2024 general election.
That is a next-year problem for Mr McCarthy, however. For the moment, he is trying to keep unruly conservative members of Congress from openly rebelling – and forcing a vote on whether to remove him from his leadership job.
Impeachment – or at least a movement toward it – could buy him the political breathing room to survive the coming months.