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Rosenstein impeachment push divides House GOP leadership

A push by House conservatives to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has divided GOP leadership, creating an issue that could become a litmus test in the race to replace retiring Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Majority Whip Steve Scalise (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 Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (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 McCarthy (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 Goodlatte (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 Clinton’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 Trump, 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 Walker (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 McHenry (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 Denham (R-Calif.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) both told The Hill that they would vote “no” on impeachment if it were on the floor, while retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) called it a “political stunt.”

And Rep. Carlos Curbelo (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.

Tags Bob Goodlatte Brian Fitzpatrick Carlos Curbelo Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Jeff Denham Jim Jordan Kevin McCarthy Mark Meadows Mark Walker Patrick McHenry Paul Ryan Rod Rosenstein Steve Scalise
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