Conservative effort to impeach IRS chief won't succeed


Published September 12, 2016 5:30PM (EDT)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A campaign-season drive by conservative House Republicans to impeach the IRS commissioner won't succeed. With solid Democratic opposition and resistance from many in the GOP, there simply aren't enough votes to oust John Koskinen from his post.

Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus are pushing it anyway, and it's on track to come to a head this week. A look at the effort:


Q: Why do conservatives want to impeach Koskinen?

A: They accuse him of lying to Congress, not answering subpoenas and overseeing an agency that destroyed documents. They say those actions hindered the House GOP's long-running investigation of how the Internal Revenue Service unfairly treated tea party groups that sought tax exemptions several years ago, before Koskinen was with the agency.

Two months to the election, going after Koskinen and the IRS is popular with many conservative voters, for whom the IRS has long been a dirty word. They've not forgiven its handling of tea party organizations. And Koskinen was appointed by President Barack Obama, another favorite conservative target.


Q: What do Koskinen and Democrats say?

A: They say the accusations are unfounded.

"There is no evidence that Commissioner Koskinen ever in any way sought to impede Congress' oversight of the IRS," Koskinen's personal lawyers wrote in documents they provided Sunday.

While the IRS acknowledged it subjected tea party groups to unfairly harsh treatment, the Justice Department and the IRS inspector general found no evidence the agency was motivated by political bias, and it's not been proved that documents were purposely destroyed.

Democrats say the impeachment effort is aimed at stirring up conservative votes and campaign donations.

Koskinen's term runs until Nov. 12, 2017. He's said publicly he serves at the pleasure of the president — which suggests he'd leave if a president asked.


Q: How does impeachment work?

A: Under the Constitution, Congress can remove officials for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." That last phrase is generally considered to reserve impeachment for the most serious offenses.

The House needs a majority vote to impeach, or formally charge, an official. The Senate then holds a trial on whether to convict and remove the person from office, which requires a two-thirds majority.


Q: What do other Republicans think of impeaching Koskinen?

A: Not much. Congressional GOP leaders have shown little passion for it and noted it divides their own party. House Republicans meet this Thursday to discuss it.

The reason for GOP discomfort: support impeachment and we could lose moderate voters who view impeachment as partisan and excessive and don't care much about Koskinen; oppose it and we could alienate conservatives. Why force that choice on ourselves two months before elections?

"That sort of action would not be helpful at this point in the campaign," said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who heads Senate GOP campaign efforts.

Some prefer to send the effort to the House Judiciary Committee — punting it until after the elections.


Q: Why don't House GOP leaders simply block the vote?

A: The proposal's sponsors introduced it under a procedure that requires a House vote within two days of calling it up on the House floor. Besides, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who's taken a neutral public stance, doesn't want to anger conservatives whose support he'll need to be re-elected to the speakership next January should the GOP retain House control.

Rep. John Fleming, R-La., who sponsored the resolution with Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., said Monday they plan to formally offer the resolution Tuesday, with a vote likely Thursday after Republicans meet. Motions could be made to kill, postpone, or sidetrack the measure to a House committee.

Fleming, who is running for the GOP nomination for Senate, said he couldn't predict the outcome but said, "Any votes to go any direction other than impeachment will be perceived by the American public as a 'no' vote on impeachment."

If Democrats solidly oppose the conservatives' effort as expected, an effort to kill it or send it to committee would pass with support from 31 Republicans if all lawmakers vote— a number that seems achievable.

But should it pass the House and clear other procedural votes, Senate GOP leaders could face their own decisions about handling a proposal that ultimately is going nowhere.

One possibility — the Senate could adjourn for the elections before receiving the measure from the House, leaving it in limbo.


AP Congressional Correspondent Erica Werner contributed to this report.



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