Conservative push to impeach IRS chief; effort won't succeed
WASHINGTON >> 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 could come to a head over the next week or two. A look at the effort:
Why do conservatives want to impeach Koskinen?
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.
What do Koskinen and Democrats say?
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 effort is aimed at stirring up conservative votes and campaign donations.
Koskinen's term runs until Nov. 12, 2017. He's said publicly he considers himself to serve at the pleasure of the president — which suggests he'd leave if a president asked.
How does impeachment work?
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.
What do other Republicans think of impeaching Koskinen?
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.
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.
Some conservatives say they'll wait until after Thursday's GOP meeting before forcing a vote. Others say they could call it up Tuesday for a vote later in the week.
Motions could be made to kill, postpone, or sidetrack the measure to a House committee.
Its House fate is unclear. 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.
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