Rosenstein impeachment push divides House GOP leadership

A push by House conservatives to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinBarr’s first task as AG: Look at former FBI leaders’ conduct 5 myths about William Barr William Barr's only 'flaw' is that he was nominated by Trump MORE has divided GOP leadership, creating an issue that could become a litmus test in the race to replace retiring Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump once asked Paul Ryan why he couldn’t be ‘loyal': book AEI names Robert Doar as new president GOP can't excommunicate King and ignore Trump playing to white supremacy and racism MORE (R-Wis.).

Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseElise Stefanik seeks to tackle GOP’s women ‘crisis’ ahead of 2020 Democrats will push to retake vote on funding government after chaos on the floor Pelosi pulls State of the Union surprise on Trump 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 MeadowsOvernight Health Care: Trump vows to veto bills expanding abortion rights | Abortion foes march into divided Washington | Medicaid work requirements approved in Arizona Abortion foes march into divided Washington McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader MORE (R-N.C.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanMcCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader Republicans request update on investigation into ex-FBI official accused of leaks GOP lawmakers rip Dems for calling Cohen to testify 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 McCarthyElise Stefanik seeks to tackle GOP’s women ‘crisis’ ahead of 2020 Steve King fundraising off controversy surrounding white supremacy comments House rejects GOP measure to pay workers but not open government 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 GoodlatteHouse GOP probe into FBI, DOJ comes to an end Murkowski to reintroduce bill to help abused Native American women FBI hits GOP chairman over push to clear sensitive transcripts by Christmas Eve 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 ClintonElise Stefanik seeks to tackle GOP’s women ‘crisis’ ahead of 2020 Russian pop star linked to Trump Tower meeting cancels US tour Graham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies 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 claims media 'smeared' students involved in encounter with Native American man Al Sharpton criticizes Trump’s ‘secret’ visit to MLK monument Gillibrand cites spirituality in 2020 fight against Trump’s ‘dark’ values 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 WalkerFlorida governor suspends Palm Beach County elections supervisor Corker: Breakthrough reached in shutdown stalemate Senate in last-minute talks to find deal to avert shutdown  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: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Local banks can lead bipartisan efforts on financial regulation Senate agrees to last-ditch talks, but no clear path over shutdown 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 DenhamCrazy California an outlier? No, we are the canary in the coal mine Polling editor says news outlets should be more cautious calling elections Rep. Valadao officially concedes in California race MORE (R-Calif.) and Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickLatest funding bill to reopen the government fails in House GOP maps out early 2020 strategy to retake House A rare display of real political courage 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-LehtinenYoder, Messer land on K Street Ex-GOP lawmaker from Washington joins lobbying firm Black Caucus sees power grow with new Democratic majority MORE (R-Fla.) called it a “political stunt.”

And Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloEx-GOP Rep. Ryan Costello joins group pushing carbon tax Hispanic Caucus boasts record membership in new Congress Chuck Todd says his show is 'not going to give time to climate deniers' 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.