House Halts Freedom Caucus Push to Impeach IRS Head

GOP leaders argued that impeaching John Koskinen would tie up the Senate at the start of 2017 when it should be dealing with Obamacare.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Daniel Newhauser
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Daniel Newhauser
Dec. 6, 2016, 8:02 p.m.

The House sidestepped a vote to im­peach IRS Com­mis­sion­er John Koskin­en Tues­day even­ing, hand­ing a sol­id bi­par­tis­an re­buke to the Free­dom Caucus and bring­ing to its end a months-long game of cat-and-mouse between the con­ser­vat­ive group and GOP lead­ers.

On a vote of 342-72, the House voted to refer the mo­tion to im­peach to the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, with more than two-thirds of Re­pub­lic­ans join­ing forces with every Demo­crat in the cham­ber to stop the Free­dom Caucus’s ef­fort in its tracks. The vote es­sen­tially kills the mo­tion, be­cause Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bob Good­latte and House lead­ers have shown little will­ing­ness to ad­vance the meas­ure due to dis­agree­ments about the sever­ity of Koskin­en’s pun­ish­ment and the fact that Koskin­en is un­likely to keep his job in­to the com­ing pres­id­ency of Don­ald Trump.

“To ad­dress these dif­fer­ences of opin­ion and to en­sure this body ad­min­is­ters due pro­cess in these de­lib­er­a­tions, I re­com­mend that the House refer this mat­ter to the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee,” Good­latte said on the House floor.

The Free­dom Caucus had brought up the mo­tion twice be­fore, only to drop it to give lead­ers and the House Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence more time to de­lib­er­ate. But on Tues­day, the group sur­pris­ingly re­sur­rec­ted its plan, des­pite ar­gu­ments from House lead­er­ship that do­ing so would im­per­il the re­peal of Obama­care next year.

Rep. Mark Mead­ows said the group was mov­ing ahead des­pite the fact that GOP lead­er­ship had re­layed to him that do­ing so would tie up the Sen­ate well in­to 2017, be­cause if the mo­tion had passed, the Sen­ate would have had to take it up, and the mo­tion car­ries over in­to the new Con­gress.

That, lead­ers ar­gued, would take up valu­able floor time they plan to spend de­bat­ing a re­peal of Pres­id­ent Obama’s sig­na­ture health care law. That ar­gu­ment, however, did not sway the group.

Some in lead­er­ship and many GOP mem­bers be­lieve the im­peach­ment mo­tion goes too far and sets a dan­ger­ous pre­ced­ent for im­peach­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials for con­duct that does not rise to “high crimes and mis­de­mean­ors,” as the Con­sti­tu­tion spe­cifies.

The Free­dom Caucus, of course, dis­agrees. The group’s out­go­ing chair­man, Rep. Jim Jordan, who brought up the mo­tion, said Con­gress should hold Koskin­en ac­count­able for al­legedly ob­struct­ing an in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to mis­con­duct by former IRS of­fi­cial Lois Lern­er.

“Un­der his watch, with sub­poen­as and pre­ser­va­tion or­ders in place, John Koskin­en not only al­lowed 422 back-up tapes con­tain­ing as many as 24,000 Lois Lern­er emails to be des­troyed—he then failed to tell Con­gress about it in a timely man­ner,” Jordan said in a state­ment. “John Koskin­en has been able to get away with stone­walling Con­gress, ob­struct­ing justice, and breach­ing the pub­lic trust. It’s time that Con­gress held him ac­count­able for his ac­tions.”

Demo­crats and some Re­pub­lic­ans, on the oth­er hand, see the al­leg­a­tions as wholly un­foun­ded. House Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er noted in a state­ment that re­fer­ring the meas­ure to com­mit­tee means it will die at the end of this Con­gress.

“I find it shame­ful that the House even con­sidered such a step without any evid­ence of wrong­do­ing and for purely par­tis­an mo­tiv­a­tions that even a ma­jor­ity of Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers op­posed,” Hoy­er said. “An over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the House demon­strated that spuri­ous ac­cus­a­tions and par­tis­an­ship are not enough to re­move a polit­ic­al ap­pointee from of­fice. Only real evid­ence of wrong­do­ing should be the basis for such a step as im­peach­ment.”

Adding to the in­trigue is the in­com­ing Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. The pres­id­ent-elect is un­der IRS audit, which he cited as a reas­on not to re­lease his tax re­turns dur­ing the cam­paign. Al­though it seems highly un­likely he would keep Koskin­en in his ad­min­is­tra­tion, mem­bers of the Free­dom Caucus be­lieved that by hold­ing the im­peach­ment vote now, they could have saved Trump from the per­ceived im­pro­pri­ety of fir­ing the head of an agency that is in­vest­ig­at­ing him.

That may ex­plain in part why Demo­crats voted un­an­im­ously to refer the mo­tion to com­mit­tee, even though they roundly be­lieve that Koskin­en should not be im­peached. Al­though the pro­spect of Re­pub­lic­ans ty­ing them­selves in knots early next year was surely at­tract­ive, Demo­crats may see more polit­ic­al value in ham­mer­ing Trump for his audit.

“The House Free­dom Caucus is do­ing Pres­id­ent-elect Trump’s dirty work for him,” said Car­oline Behringer, a spokes­wo­man for House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi. “Break­ing from their own lead­er­ship and reg­u­lar or­der, the Re­pub­lic­ans’ latest quest to im­peach the IRS com­mis­sion­er comes as the Pres­id­ent-elect re­mains un­der audit by the IRS.”

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