Rosenstein impeachment push divides House GOP leadership

A push by House conservatives to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinVote Democrat in midterms to rein in Trump, preserve justice Trump lawyer: NBC interview with Comey firing comments was edited Trump attack on Sessions may point to his departure MORE has divided GOP leadership, creating an issue that could become a litmus test in the race to replace retiring Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP super PAC drops .5 million on Nevada ad campaign Blue wave poses governing risks for Dems Dems seek to rebuild blue wall in Rust Belt contests MORE (R-Wis.).

Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseOn The Money: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills Midterms to shake up top posts on House finance panel On The Money: Senate approves 4B spending bill | China imposes new tariffs on billion in US goods | Ross downplays new tariffs: 'Nobody's going to actually notice' MORE (La.), the No. 3 Republican, said Thursday that he would vote in favor of impeaching Rosenstein if the resolution were brought to the floor today.

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“I would, because right now Rosenstein has not done his job in complying with Congress,” Scalise told Fox News. “If Rosenstein wants to comply and turn over the documents, we won’t have this conversation. But if he’s not going to do the job that he’s required to do and comply with the subpoenas from Congress, there are other tools that we have to use.”

Conservative members led by Reps. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsRepublicans threaten to subpoena Nellie Ohr Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Graham to renew call for second special counsel MORE (R-N.C.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanHillicon Valley: Trump cyber strategy lets US go on offense | AT&T urges court to let Time Warner merger stand | Conservatives want wife of DOJ official to testify | Facebook, nonprofits team up to fight fake news | DC camera hacker pleads guilty FBI memos detail ‘partisan axes,’ secret conflicts behind the Russia election meddling assessment Republicans threaten to subpoena Nellie Ohr MORE (R-Ohio), along with nine co-sponsors, introduced five articles of impeachment Wednesday shortly after a meeting with Department of Justice (DOJ) officials concerning document production. Conservative lawmakers have complained for months that the DOJ is stonewalling their request for documents.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOn The Money: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills Midterms to shake up top posts on House finance panel The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil MORE (R-Calif.), Ryan’s top deputy, would not say how he would vote on the impeachment move and indicated that the resolution should go through regular order before being brought to the House floor for a vote.

"I always think you've got to go through committee," said McCarthy, who controls the floor. "It's very clear the DOJ has got to do a better job producing memos. They've improved but they've got a responsibility, and we have responsibility for a check and balance."

Ryan dismissed the idea that impeachment is necessary.

"I don't think we should be cavalier with this process or this term," Ryan said Thursday at his weekly news conference. "I don't think this rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors."

Ryan has already backed McCarthy, his chief deputy and heir apparent, to succeed him as Speaker. But Scalise is expected to run for the job if McCarthy drops his bid like he did in 2015, after conservatives declined to back him.

Jordan, one of the House Freedom Caucus members who is leading the impeachment effort, officially announced his own bid for Speaker on Thursday, though it could be part of a strategy to extract more concessions from any front-runner in exchange for the group’s support.

Winning over the support of the Freedom Caucus, a bloc of roughly 30 conservative hard-liners, will be crucial for any Republican hoping to secure the Speaker’s gavel. And a full-throated endorsement of the impeachment push could help endear any candidate to the caucus.

"This is a big win for Steve Scalise," one conservative lawmaker told The Hill.

Not long after Scalise’s Fox News interview, he was seen meeting on the House floor with several Freedom Caucus members and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteGoodlatte: Administration undercut law, Congress by setting refugee cap Virginia reps urge Trump to declare federal emergency ahead of Hurricane Florence Republicans mull new punishments for dissident lawmakers MORE (R-Va.). During the discussion, they agreed to keep both impeachment and contempt on the table in order to “keep the pressure up on DOJ to demonstrate how serious the House is about obtaining these documents as part of their oversight role,” according to a GOP aide.

Conservatives say the FBI acted improperly during its investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE’s use of a private email server and its investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, and said Rosenstein has a conflict of interest.

"For 9 months we’ve warned them consequences were coming, and for 9 months we’ve heard the same excuses backed up by the same unacceptable conduct," Meadows, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus and an ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE, said in a statement. "Time is up and the consequences are here. It’s time to find a new Deputy Attorney General who is serious about accountability and transparency."

But the resolution was filed as “non-privileged,” meaning that the House will not be forced to vote on the measure unless GOP leaders decide to bring it to the floor.

Meadows later said, on Thursday, that he is tabling his efforts to impeach Rosenstein after having several meetings with Republican leadership. He said he would instead pursue contempt if the DOJ does not turn over the documents Congress is seeking.

Still, the introduction of impeachment articles has thrust the feud with top law enforcement officials into the spotlight and divided the House GOP just as they head home for the August recess.

Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerOn The Money: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Trump's Puerto Rico tweets spark backlash MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, rejected the calls for impeachment.

“At this point, I do not [support it], because I believe we’re getting the cart before the horse,” Walker told reporters on Thursday. “If we have a problem overall with how the DOJ is operating, we should be putting pressure on the attorney general, and not going after one of the deputies.”

But Walker, who is considered a dark horse candidate for Speaker should McCarthy and Scalise both stumble, made it clear that he was not criticizing the Freedom Caucus’s effort, even though he doesn’t agree with it.

“I’m not overly critical of what they’re trying to do,” Walker added.

Another potential contender for Speaker if McCarthy and Scalise falter is Deputy Whip Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryOn The Money: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills Midterms to shake up top posts on House finance panel Kavanaugh hires attorney amid sexual assault allegations: report MORE (R-N.C.).

But like McCarthy, McHenry said that the impeachment articles should go through regular order and declined to say how he would vote on the resolution.

“I don’t know, I haven’t seen the hearing yet, I haven’t seen the witnesses, I haven’t seen the documents,” McHenry told The Hill.

Elsewhere in the GOP conference, however, Republicans were firmly opposed to the idea.

Vulnerable Reps. Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamTrump attacks Dems on farm bill House Republicans push for vote on Violence Against Women Act Steyer group launching 0,000 digital ad campaign targeting millennials MORE (R-Calif.) and Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickDems seek to rebuild blue wall in Rust Belt contests Congress prepares to punt biggest political battles until after midterms Preventing violence isn’t partisan: Time to reauthorize Violence Against Women Act MORE (R-Pa.) both told The Hill that they would vote “no” on impeachment if it were on the floor, while retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenCook moves status of 6 House races as general election sprint begins The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Cuomo wins and Manafort plea deal Trump's Puerto Rico tweets spark backlash MORE (R-Fla.) called it a “political stunt.”

And Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Cuomo wins and Manafort plea deal Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless Bipartisan trio asks US intelligence to investigate ‘deepfakes’ MORE (R-Fla.), who is in one of the most competitive races in the country, immediately took to Twitter on Wednesday night to slam the idea.

“Reckless publicity stunt,” he wrote. “No different from Dems who filed articles of impeachment against the President some months ago. What a sad, pathetic game of “how low can you go?”

Updated at 3:47 p.m.