Politics

Conservatives Try to Force Vote on IRS Commissioner Impeachment

GOP conference will discuss the matter when it returns in September, Ryan says

   

UNITED STATES - JULY 23: IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testifies during the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee hearing on the IRS scandal on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
 IRS Commissioner John Koskinen (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The conservative House Freedom Caucus used a procedural maneuver Thursday morning to launch their bid to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, seeking to force a vote on the matter after Congress return in September.   

On the House floor, Louisiana Republican Rep. John Fleming provided notice of his intent to raise a question of the privilege of the House regarding a resolution offering articles of impeachment against Koskinen. The maneuver of offering a privileged resolution allows any rank-and-file member to try to force a House vote.   

The arguments for impeaching Koskinen stem from his lack of responsiveness to the congressional committees over the last few years as they've investigated the IRS's alleged targeting of conservative groups that applied for tax exempt status.   

[ The GOP's War on the IRS ]    

Now that Fleming has filed notice of his privileged resolution, the House will have two legislative days to consider the matter, at a time determined by leadership.  

Thursday is the House's last day in session before a seven-week recess, but the House has scheduled pro forma sessions later this month that will count as legislative days, meaning the two days on which the House has to act will expire while members are back home in their districts.   

The timing will allow leadership to ignore the resolution for now, but they understand the Freedom Caucus is likely to try to force another vote when Congress returns in September.   

Speaker Paul D. Ryan didn’t seem to concerned about the Freedom Caucus move.  

“Members told us what they’re going to do,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “It expires in a couple days, they know that.”  

Ryan said there’s “not really” a division between the Freedom Caucus and leadership on the issue. “Quite honestly I haven’t really focused on it and it’s something a lot of members haven’t focused on,” he said, noting that the GOP conference will discuss it when they return in September.  

[ Critics Present Their Case Against IRS Chief Koskinen ]  

Some members outside of the Freedom Caucus, like Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz who filed the original impeachment resolution against Koskinen in October, do support impeaching the IRS commissioner but others believe the action is a bit too drastic, even though they agree the IRS needs a leadership change.   

Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores of Texas issued a statement Thursday in support of the impeachment resolution, saying that Koskinen has clearly abused the trust of the American people.   

"It is indefensible that IRS Commissioner Koskinen has not been held accountable for failing to meet his legal obligations," Flores said. "This is exactly what the American people are tired of when they say that our government is on the wrong track."  

Thursday's action, led by Fleming but supported by others in the conservative Freedom Caucus, was merely a blip on day's legislative agenda but a major sign of defiance by the hard-right members of the Republican conference.   

Earlier this year, Freedom Caucus members convinced leadership to have the Judiciary Committee, which holds jurisdiction over impeachments, hold two hearings on Koskinen's alleged misconduct. But since those hearings the Judiciary Committee has not acted, frustrating conservatives who feel the House should vote to impeach Koskinen.   

On Tuesday Freedom Caucus members took their request for a vote to Speaker Paul D. Ryan during a weekly advisory meeting in which he meets with representatives from different factions of the conference. Ryan told them it's up to the Judiciary Committee how to proceed and the full GOP conference would need to discuss the matter before a floor vote, according to a source familiar with the meeting.   

[ Conservatives May Force Vote on Impeaching IRS Commissioner ] Without a commitment from leadership, Freedom Caucus members decided to take the issue into their own hands and offer the privileged resolution to try to force a vote.  

Given that they waited until the day Congress is set to adjourn for a seven-week break, it's also likely their goal may be partially to force leadership back to the negotiating table to find a way to address the matter in lieu of a vote on a privileged resolution come September.   

Fleming raised four articles of impeachment against Koskinen “for high crimes and misdemeanors,” which is the standard for impeachment.   

[ Impeachment of IRS Chief is a Serious Misstep ]  

The grievances Fleming raised in the resolution include that Koskinen failed to respond to congressional subpoenas, made a series of false and misleading statements to Congress, repeatedly violated his promise made at his confirmation hearing to be transparent with the Congress and the public and failed to act with "confidence and forthrightness" in overseeing its own investigation into the alleged targeting.   

Contact McPherson at lindseymcpherson@rollcall.com and follow her on Twitter @lindsemcpherson.

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