WASHINGTON (AP) — A last-minute deal between conservatives and GOP leaders in the House has averted votes expected Thursday on a measure to impeach the commissioner of the IRS.
Instead, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen will testify before Congress next week.
The conservative House Freedom Caucus celebrated the development as a win late Wednesday, as conservatives had long pushed GOP leaders for impeachment hearings against Koskinen. They accuse him of obstructing a congressional investigation into the treatment of tea party groups seeking tax exemptions.
But the agreement canceling the votes came only after conservatives themselves predicted that their impeachment resolution was going to get sidelined by Democratic and Republican opposition Thursday. So instead they settled for a hearing next Wednesday, which would result in an impeachment vote only after the November presidential election, if ever.
"This hearing will give every American the opportunity to hear John Koskinen answer under oath why he misled Congress, allowed evidence pertinent to an investigation to be destroyed, and defied Congressional subpoenas and preservation orders," the Freedom Caucus said in a statement. "It will also remove any lingering excuses for those who have been hesitant to proceed with this course of action."
Koskinen has disputed such claims in private meetings with House Republicans in recent days, while in public the agency insisted Wednesday that he "remains focused on the critical work needed for the nation's tax system."
Some Republicans, while critical of Koskinen's conduct, questioned whether it amounted to the constitutional standard of "high crimes and misdemeanors." They worried about setting a bad precedent in pursuing the impeachment claim, especially just ahead of the election. The original conduct the House was investigating, related to how tea party groups were dealt with by the IRS, happened before Koskinen's tenure.
Already this week President Barack Obama had seized on the issue to ridicule the GOP-led Congress, calling the impeachment push "crazy."
Because House Republican leadership had balked on moving forward on impeachment proceedings, the Freedom Caucus had used a procedural maneuver that would have forced a floor vote Thursday. But Freedom Caucus members themselves were predicting earlier Wednesday that their resolution would end up getting tabled, which would effectively have killed it.
"The table motion will prevail, at least that's my expectation," said Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina.
Yet going after Koskinen and the IRS was popular with many conservatives frustrated in their attempts to hold administration officials to account, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, over the eight years of Barack Obama's presidency.
"Who's going to come rushing to the defense of the IRS?" Mulvaney asked. "Face it, if you were going to hold one person accountable this might be the one guy we could do it with."