By Justin Sink and Bernie Becker - 08/01/13 07:48 PM EDT
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said Thursday he was "more than a little mystified" that President Obama failed to consult him about John Koskinen's nomination for IRS commissioner.
“As is always the case, this nominee will be fairly and thoroughly considered by the Finance Committee and the Senate to serve as the next IRS Commissioner," said Hatch, the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, in a statement.
"But given the magnitude of the scandal facing the IRS, I am more than a little mystified that neither the President nor the Secretary of Treasury either consulted with or told me in advance about this decision to select this nominee."
Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) praised the choice of Koskinen, saying in a statement that he hoped to quickly move the nomination through his committee. He said the president’s pick would help the embattled agency regain the public’s trust.
Baucus also told reporters that he had gotten a head’s up from the administration that Koskinen would be the nominee, but pushed back on the idea that the timing of the announcement was aimed at blunting IRS-related criticisms.
House Republicans are currently voting on a slew of IRS measures, and GOP lawmakers plan to make the targeting of groups seeking tax-exempt status a big part of their August messaging back home.
“They just want a good person there,” Baucus said. “And this person has a strong management background – very strong management background. The IRS needs that.”
But Senate Republicans did call the timing curious, with Hatch saying he would have appreciated hearing from the White House about the nominee.
“I commend them for doing it,” Hatch told reporters. “I don’t think they’ve done it in a very smart way.”
The Utah Republican said that the IRS deserved a full-time leader confirmed by the Senate, even as he questioned the White House rollout.
“They must be a little bit afraid of Danny Werfel — that he’s going to cooperate too much,” Hatch said, referring to the acting IRS commissioner. “They certainly haven’t been cooperating.”
“It’s starting to irritate me,” Hatch added. “They are dragging their feet on this.”
The White House in recent days has argued that investigations into the admitted political targeting by the tax collection agency revealed no partisan motives, with Obama accusing Republicans of pursuing "phony scandals" to the detriment of the economy.
Hatch blasted back in his statement, accusing Obama of "trying to close the door on Congress’ investigations."
“To say, as President Obama said, that Congress is undertaking a ‘phony’ investigation, or, as Secretary Lew did this past Sunday, that politics played no part in the IRS’ targeting when the Finance Committee has received only a minuscule fraction of the documents we’ve requested can only lead me to believe that the administration isn’t interested in getting to the truth and would rather this matter go away," Hatch said.
Sen. Pat Roberts, another Finance Committee member, said he heard about the IRS nominee from reporters.
“This may have been timed to take attention away from all these ‘phony scandals’ that he describes,” Roberts said, referring to the president. “But this is going to be ongoing.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that congressional Republicans had failed to prove their allegations.
"What some in Congress have failed to do despite many attempts is to provide any evidence — because there is none — that that activity was in any way known by, or directed by, the White House, or was even partisan or political," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday.
"As testimony has shown that I’ve seen produced publicly in the press — although not by the Republican chairman of the committee — self-identified Republicans who participated in the reviews of these applications for tax-exempt status clearly denied that there was ... any partisan or political motivation to what they were doing."
— This story was updated at 4:17 p.m.