WASHINGTON (AP) — Two Republican congressmen formally offered a campaign-season resolution Tuesday to impeach IRS chief John Koskinen, setting the House on course for showdown votes over an effort that rouses conservatives but has no chance of ousting the commissioner from office.
The proposal by conservative Reps. John Fleming, R-La., and Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., is expected to face votes Thursday in which its fate is unclear. With solid opposition from Democrats and resistance from many Republicans who consider it excessive and politically damaging, the measure might end up being killed and replaced by a censure motion that would scold Koskinen but leave him in his job.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted along party lines in June to censure Koskinen.
"Censure does nothing," Fleming, who is running for the Senate, told reporters Tuesday. "Impeachment makes a much stronger statement than censure. It says in the opinion of the House, John Koskinen should lose his job."
Because the issue has so divided Republicans, GOP lawmakers will meet privately Thursday to discuss how to handle it.
Even if the House musters a majority to impeach Koskinen — the equivalent of indicting him — Republicans would have no chance of winning the two-thirds majority required to convict him in the Senate. The GOP has just 54 of that chamber's 100 seats.
In a formality, Fleming read the four-page resolution on the House floor, accusing him of committing "high crimes and misdemeanors," the constitutional standard for impeachment. The move is certain to draw attention to Fleming, among 24 candidates running for the Senate in his state.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., called the impeachment drive "totally unjustified" and said Democrats will oppose it unanimously.
The effort, backed by the roughly 40-member-strong House Freedom Caucus, underscores that conservative group's willingness to make life difficult for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who has taken a neutral stance.
With presidential and congressional elections less than two months away, top Republicans have shown no enthusiasm for putting Congress through a partisan, time-consuming impeachment process for a little-known bureaucrat. Only once in U.S. history has the House impeached a Cabinet-level official, the secretary of war, in 1876.
At the same time, Republican leaders are reluctant to dismiss the effort and rile conservative voters who have long loathed the IRS. That revulsion only intensified in 2013, when the agency conceded it had unfairly targeted tea party groups seeking tax exemptions for rigorous examinations in previous years.
Fleming and Huelskamp, who recently lost the GOP nomination for his House seat and will leave Congress, are Freedom Caucus members. The group issued a supportive statement saying that unless Congress acts, Koskinen "will be able to get away with abuse of his office."
Many Republicans have felt the IRS' actions were politically motivated, though investigators have found no evidence of that.
Koskinen did not join the IRS until late 2013. But the impeachment resolution accuses him of thwarting their investigation of the agency's actions by not providing emails subpoenaed by Congress, lying about the IRS' destruction of emails and making little effort to recover the lost documents.
Koskinen and Democrats say he's cooperated with the investigators, supplying them with all the information the agency could locate. They've emphasized that the IRS inspector general concluded that agency employees accidentally erased IRS tapes with backup documents, and that the inspector general and Justice Department found no evidence that the IRS acted against tea party groups for political reasons.
"A small minority of House members are seeking 'accountability' for the alleged targeting controversy by pushing to impeach or censure Commissioner Koskinen. Their anger over the scandal is understandable but misplaced," Koskinen's personal lawyers wrote in background papers they've released.
Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.