House GOP faces fight over impeaching IRS commissioner
House conservatives and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) are on a collision course this fall over demands to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
Members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus have been pressing for a vote on the matter for months and intend to force a vote if leadership won’t schedule one.
Ryan’s leadership team has been decidedly reluctant to hold an impeachment vote. On Wednesday, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) released an agenda for September that did not include one.
The battle will pit Ryan and other GOP lawmakers who want to avoid an impeachment vote against conservatives — some of whom have little to lose.
Reps. John Fleming (R-La.) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) filed an impeachment resolution before the summer recess in July, setting the state for a September vote. Huelskamp, a thorn in former Speaker John Boehner’s side when he was the top House Republican, has since lost his primary battle to stay in the House.
Fleming and Huelskamp filed a privileged resolution, which must be acted on within two legislative days of notice being given. That time has expired, so Fleming and Huelskamp would have to give notice again to force a vote. Leadership could decide to hold a vote to table the bill, refer it to committee or vote on the substance of the bill.
The House has only voted once, more than 100 years ago, to impeach a Cabinet member. And even if the House votes to impeach Koskinen, a sub-Cabinet member, the Senate would have to convict him by a two-thirds majority, which is unlikely.
Ryan told reporters in July that he and many other Republican lawmakers hadn’t been focused on the impeachment issue and that the conference would discuss the topic after the recess.
The House Republican Conference is expected to meet about the impeachment issue sometime in the second week members are back.
In an interview, Fleming said he had no intention of backing off.
“I plan to move forward regardless of what leadership wants to do,” he said.
He also said that it’s important to impeach Koskinen even if the Senate doesn’t convict.
“We shouldn’t worry about the outcome of a trial, we should only worry about doing our job,” Fleming said.
Huelskamp said that while leadership is “not speaking highly of this,” the resolution is something that should bring Republicans together.
“I don’t see how Republicans could vote against the resolution,” he said, adding, “How could the Republicans approve of the IRS targeting constituents, particularly conservative constituents?”
“Commissioner Koskinen didn’t even arrive at the IRS until well after the targeting scandal ended,” Matt Jones, a lawyer at WilmerHale and Koskinen’s personal counsel, told The Hill in response.
“It has become increasingly clear that some want to impeach the IRS, and that John Koskinen is just the name on the resolution.”
Republicans arguing for the commissioner’s impeachment say Koskinen impeded congressional investigations into the IRS’s handling of conservative groups’ applications for tax-exempt status.
They have argued that Koskinen didn’t comply with a subpoena, since under his watch 422 backup tapes containing emails from former IRS official Lois Lerner were destroyed. They also said that Koskinen made false statements under oath about the tapes and emails.
Leading proponents of impeachment say that even if some House Republicans aren’t on board, constituents are supportive.
“They are so angry and so fed up with high-level corruption in our government,” Fleming said.
Impeachment supporters also said that recent developments make it even clearer why impeachment is necessary.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) pointed to a U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit opinion from August that said that the IRS had not completely stopped its improper handling of conservative groups’ applications. And Fleming said that his resolution may be amended in light of a report that found that the IRS failed to notify more than 1 million victims of employment-related identity theft in recent years.
“The facts are strong in favor of moving forward,” Jordan said.
It’s not clear how many House Republicans would back impeachment, though 84 lawmakers signed on to a measure to impeach Koskinen that was introduced last fall by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).
In July, the House rejected an amendment to a spending bill that would have cut Koskinen’s pay to zero through the date of the next presidential inauguration. Forty-three Republicans voted against the amendment.
But Freedom Caucus members have become frustrated since the push to impeach Koskinen started months ago and has not received a committee vote on impeachment.
After Freedom Caucus members gave Ryan an ultimatum in May, the House Judiciary Committee held two hearings to examine Koskinen’s alleged misconduct. The Oversight Committee also voted in June to censure Koskinen.
When the Judiciary Committee took no additional steps following the hearings, Freedom Caucus members pressed for a floor vote.
Koskinen told the Judiciary Committee in written comments in May that he thinks there is “no substance” to the allegations against him. His lawyers argued in July that Koskinen should get a chance to review and respond to the evidence against him before a House vote.
House Democrats are united in their opposition to impeachment.
“Instead of baseless attacks on a dedicated civil servant, Republicans in Congress should be addressing the urgent issues that they have thus far left unresolved — Zika virus, the Flint water crisis, the opioid crisis, and gun violence,” said Caroline Behringer, a spokeswoman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).
Tax professionals have also come to Koskinen’s defense.
In late August, a group of 123 tax-law professors sent Ryan, Pelosi and leaders of the Ways and Means Committee a letter urging the House to reject impeachment. The American College of Tax Counsel and a group of former IRS commissioners also sent lawmakers letters opposing impeachment shortly before Congress left for its summer recess.
– Updated at 3:40 p.m.