House conservatives launched an effort Thursday to force a vote to impeach the IRS commissioner, but action on the motion could be delayed until September.
Representative John Fleming of Louisiana offered a privileged resolution to force a vote on impeaching John Koskinen, the Internal Revenue Service commissioner, after Republicans accused him of impeding an investigation into whether the tax agency improperly targeted conservative nonprofits.
House leaders have to rule on whether the motion is indeed privileged, which could happen later Thursday, the last day before a seven-week recess. If the resolution is deemed privileged, then the House has two legislative days to hold a vote, which effectively delays any action until September, when the House returns.
"We expect the full conference to discuss the appropriate path ahead when we get back into session," said AshLee Strong, a spokesman for Speaker Paul Ryan.
Democrats dismiss the effort as a political stunt, noting that the two-day legislative clock would expire during the summer recess because the House holds brief pro-forma sessions while it’s away.
The Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS, issued a statement calling the effort baseless and a distraction, adding that Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew continues to have full confidence in Koskinen.
Fleming said on the House floor that his resolution has four separate articles of impeachment.
Those include one accusing Koskinen of "engaging in a pattern of conduct showing he is unfit," including false statements to Congress. The Louisiana Republican said Koskinen’s false statements confused the investigation.
But moments before Fleming offered the resolution, Ryan made a plea for the country to work toward healing.
"Our country is hurting, and needs to come together," he said on the House floor.
It is highly unusual for Congress to impeach an appointed administration official. The last time it happened was 140 years ago.
The resolution requires a simple majority of the House. It would then go to the Senate, which would try the case.
Senate leaders have also indicated they didn’t favor an effort to impeach Koskinen.
Koskinen’s lawyer, Reginald Brown of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr LLP, said in an e-mail that Fleming’s resolution “unfortunately repeated a conspiracy theory that was long ago discredited by the Republican-appointed inspector general who comprehensively investigated these issues.”
Tom Davis, director of federal government affairs at Deloitte LLP, an accounting firm, called the maneuver to force an impeachment vote “dangerous.”
It “sets a precedent saying that if we want to impeach someone, we just use privilege to bring a vote and it’s done in three days. There are no rules anymore,” Davis said.
—With assistance from Lynnley Browning
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