A last-minute deal between House conservatives and Republican leadership delayed a floor vote to impeach the head of the IRS last week. But the top taxman isn’t in the clear just yet.
For the first time, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen will come under oath to plead his case, appearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. A product of compromise, that impeachment hearing means different things to different factions of Congress.
Freedom Caucus members, who have been demanding Koskinen’s early retirement for months, see the hearing as a formality necessary to fire Koskinen. Others see it as a prerequisite to a longer impeachment process and an opportunity to afford the taxman his right to due process.
It’s undisputed that Koskinen will face an unfriendly jury Wednesday, though.
Fourteen of the 23 Republican Judiciary Committee members have said already that the taxman is guilty of wrongdoing, including Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who first filed articles of impeachment last October.
Making matters worse for the IRS chief, seven Freedom Caucus members sit on the committee, including Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who has helped quarterback the effort to send Koskinen into early retirement.
Conservatives argue that Koskinen is unfit to lead the IRS because he obstructed a congressional investigation into the agency’s unfair treatment of tea party groups applying for tax-exempt status before the 2012 elections.
The White House has been unwavering in their support of Koskinen. Speaking at a Democrat fundraiser last week, President Barack Obama said the impeachment effort “is crazy.” And Koskinen, who has hired a personal defense attorney, maintains that those allegations “lack merit.”
The Judiciary Committee first held hearings to consider impeachment earlier in May. Though summoned to appear, Koskinen stood up lawmakers. Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., declined to subpoena the tax chief.
Frustrated that impeachment had stalled, Freedom Caucus Reps. John Fleming, R-La., and Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., introduced a privileged resolution last July. A special parliamentary measure, the resolution would have bypassed the committee process and triggered a floor vote.
The conservative group of firebrands agreed to back down last week when leadership promised to subpoena Koskinen for a hearing.
“We think Mr. Koskinen deserves impeachment,” Jordan told The Daily Signal. “And we think the best way to make this happen is to have the hearing. That’s why we agreed to hold off on the resolution and go for a hearing this week.”
It’s not clear the Freedom Caucus had the votes to begin with, though.
While Republican leadership hasn’t tipped its hand, Democrats have vowed to vote as a bloc on the floor against impeachment. Only 31 Republicans would need to join the 181-member Democrat conference to scuttle the effort.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., pushed the Freedom Caucus to delay the vote. The former prosecutor and current member of Judiciary Committee argued that more time was needed to build a case against Koskinen.
“When it comes to investigations, Congressman Gowdy will always push for more information,” Gowdy spokeswoman Amanda Gonzalez told The Daily Signal. “Judiciary has yet to hear from Mr. Koskinen, which is why tomorrow’s hearing is critical to gaining competent, credible evidence before deciding what charge, if any, is appropriate.”
The clock might be running out on the Judiciary Committee, though. If he’s not satisfied with the proceedings, Huelskamp has threatened to thwart the committee process and reintroduce the privileged resolution to force a floor vote.
Jordan told The Daily Signal he’s “talked to Tim a couple times and strongly encouraged him not to do that.”
Huelskamp, who was still considering the idea Tuesday night, told The Daily Signal that he requested a special seat on the Judiciary Committee in order to question Koskinen. The Kansas congressman, who lost his primary earlier in the year, said the committee declined his request.