Defying Ryan, conservatives move to force vote on IRS impeachment

Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus moved Thursday morning to force a vote on impeaching the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) commissioner when Congress returns in September from its long summer recess.
In defiance of Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) wishes, Reps. John Fleming (R-La.) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) filed a privileged resolution after unveiling plans the day before to introduce a measure to impeach IRS head John Koskinen. 
{mosads}House rules state that “privileged” measures must be acted on within two legislative days — meaning action is likely after Labor Day.
The House is expected to adjourn for a seven-week recess later Thursday afternoon.
Any pro forma sessions, during which no legislative business is conducted, that are held over the recess will constitute legislative days that count toward the resolution’s expiration. Consequently, the motion could expire as soon as next week while the House is out of session. 

That means the Freedom Caucus would have to give re-notice of the resolution at a later date so a vote could still occur in September.

“[The Freedom Caucus] is committed to have this fully addressed and a vote taken that reflects the voice of millions of Americans. It is our hope that a prudent schedule to fully address this issue will be set forth by our leadership,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told The Hill.

Fleming and Huelskamp filed the resolution on behalf of the entire caucus, which has been pushing for months to impeach Koskinen. Conservatives say he wasn’t forthright with documents regarding the agency’s scrutiny of conservative nonprofits.

The two lawmakers are in competitive GOP primaries: Fleming is running for an open Senate seat, while Huelskamp has a primary challenge next month.

Fleming told The Hill in an interview that the Freedom Caucus hopes that filing a privileged resolution as members leave for recess will help spur momentum as their colleagues meet with constituents. Even if the caucus has to re-file the resolution when the House comes back in September, they think doing so now will keep the topic alive over the next two months.

“I think this puts it squarely on the map at a level that it hasn’t been before,” Fleming said. 

When reminded that the House hasn’t voted to impeach a Cabinet official since 1876, Fleming countered that Republican base voters think Congress should be more aggressive with the Obama administration.

“According to our constituents out there, they feel like we don’t do this nearly enough, that we’re not holding members of this administration accountable for what they do and what they don’t do,” he said. 

The strategy is reminiscent of the caucus’s move almost exactly a year ago to file a resolution that would have forced a referendum vote on then-Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) leadership.
Meadows filed a motion to vacate the chair one day before the House adjourned for its long summer recess in 2015. However, Meadows did not introduce his measure as “privileged,” meaning it didn’t immediately force a vote.
But by unveiling the Boehner resolution just as lawmakers prepared to leave town, the measure remained front and center for Republicans as they met with constituents over the recess. 
Boehner announced plans to resign as Speaker a few weeks after Congress reconvened following the recess.
By making the IRS resolution a privileged one, the Freedom Caucus will have more leverage in forcing a vote.
Conservatives had urged Ryan to initiate hearings in the House Judiciary Committee to impeach Koskinen, or else they would force a vote.
The Judiciary Committee later held two hearings on the matter but has not moved to start impeachment proceedings.
Ryan and other senior Republicans have been wary of voting to impeach the IRS commissioner, a relatively low-ranking official, out of concerns that it would establish a bad precedent.
Despite the defiance of leadership, Freedom Caucus members have been keeping Ryan and his staff updated regularly.
Ryan said House Republicans would settle on a strategy after returning from recess.
“Some of these members have focused on it quite a bit, that’s why they’re bringing attention to the issue. When we return from our work period, we’ll talk about it as a family,” Ryan told reporters.
The Treasury Department, in which the IRS is housed, dismissed conservatives’ latest move.
“The effort to impeach Commissioner Koskinen is completely baseless,” a Treasury spokesperson said. “[Treasury Secretary Jack] Lew continues to have full confidence in Commissioner Koskinen and believes that Commissioner Koskinen’s decades of experience turning around both public and private institutions continues to make him the right person to lead the IRS.
“To be clear, the IRS has cooperated with all Congressional investigations and has committed to continuing to work with Congress moving forward,” the statement added. 
Impeachment proceedings have been initiated in the House more than 60 times, but less than a third led to full impeachments, according to the House historian’s office
The House has impeached 15 federal judges, Sen. William Blount of North Carolina in 1797, Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, and just one Cabinet official, the House historian’s office said.
Secretary of War William Belknap has so far been the only Cabinet member to be impeached by the House, in 1876.
— Scott Wong contributed to this report, which was updated at 12:22 p.m.
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