Policy

Bipartisan Majority Could Have Stopped House IRS Impeachment Vote

Many in GOP said to have lingering concerns about process

Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent said there enough Republicans to join Democrats in tabling the resolution to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen last week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Weeks of Republican infighting over whether the House should move to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen could have ended last Thursday with a vote to table the impeachment resolution. 

"We had more than enough votes, more than sufficient votes to table the motion," Rep. Charlie Dent said in an interview.

The Pennsylvania Republican and House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland had led a bipartisan effort to ensure that there would be enough votes to prevent an up-or-down vote on the impeachment resolution. 

But last Wednesday night, just hours before the anticipated floor showdown the next day, Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia and Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio cut a deal to delay a full House vote while the Judiciary panel hauls Koskinen in to testify under oath. 

The deal is a big win for due process — the reason most members, including Dent, give for not wanting the floor vote — but it only postpones the inevitable defeat of the impeachment resolution. There simply aren't 218 members of Congress who believe there's a strong enough case to impeach Koskinen, although some Republicans are hesitant to say that publicly.

The hearing scheduled for Wednesday may change some minds but it's unlikely to sway enough votes in favor of impeachment. 

[IRS Impeachment Debate Latest Example of House GOP Infighting]

Had the resolution been called up last Thursday, Dent and Hoyer said there would have been more than enough votes to table it, a procedural move that would have signaled the House had no interest in pursuing impeachment. 

Democrats were expected to vote unanimously in favor of tabling, Hoyer said in an interview, noting that he was "pretty confident" more than 50 Republicans would have joined them. Dent declined to specify how many Republicans had committed to vote to table, but said, "I believe we needed 32 and we had considerably more than that."

Dent said his major concern in working to prevent a vote on the impeachment resolution was due process. He didn't want to set a precedent for taking an impeachment vote at any time without the Judiciary Committee having formal proceedings in which both the prosecution and defense got to bring in witnesses and present their cases. 

"Many of our Republican prosecutors had very serious reservations about how this was going to be handled," Dent said. 

Despite widespread concern among the House Republican Conference that the impeachment effort was being rushed to the floor, leadership did not intervene. 

"It became clear to me that House Republican leadership was not interested in getting involved in this fight despite their preferred outcome," Dent said in explaining his decision to explore whether his colleagues would support a procedural motion to table or refer the impeachment resolution back to committee. 

Hoyer got involved around the end of August when it became clear to him that the Freedom Caucus was determined to force a floor vote. 

"I knew from just talking to my friends on the Republican side that there were a large number of Republicans — overwhelming, in my opinion — that felt this impeachment was not justified by the facts," he said. 

[Deal on IRS Impeachment Hearing Delays Floor Vote]

So Hoyer decided to engage his whip team, particularly members who had close ties with Republicans like Reps. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Beto O'Rourke of Texas in testing out that theory.

Dent said Republicans were also considering a motion to refer the resolution back to committee, but Hoyer admits Democrats would not have supported that. 

"We thought we ought to take this issue and on its substance dispose of it," Hoyer said. "And tabling it would’ve disposed of it."

Sinema said she talked to about 20 of her Republican "friends" to see where they stood and got a mix of responses. Some did not want to have the vote, some did while others were open to a vote but wanted a hearing first. 

While noting that it's not unusual for her to talk to Republicans, Sinema acknowledged the significance of the larger effort. 

"Having Republicans and Democrats working together, like Mr. Hoyer and Mr. Dent who were working together on this, doesn’t happen every day," she said. 

The Freedom Caucus is still committed to seeing a floor vote on impeachment. While some of them may be willing to wait until after the election, Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp is weighing whether to force a vote sometime this week. 

[IRS Impeachment Vote Could Still Happen Next Week]

If that occurs, Hoyer said he believes the votes to table the resolution will still be there as the facts will not change after Wednesday's hearing. His estimate of the "well over 50 Republicans" who would have voted to table is far less than what he believes actually oppose impeachment. 

“I believe the majority of Republicans think impeachment was unjustified and should not happen,” he said. “That does not mean I think all of them would have voted against it because you have some right-wing activists and most strident folks supporting it, and they didn’t want to tick them off.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.