Late Wednesday night, the House Freedom Caucus was just hours away from forcing a historic vote on impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
Instead, the conservative lawmakers brokered a deal with the House’s Republican leadership to postpone a vote and hold a hearing.
Before the agreement, the pack of rabble-rousers warned their GOP colleagues that they considered a vote for anything less than impeachment as support for the beleaguered tax chief.
By introducing a special resolution to impeach Koskinen, the Freedom Caucus had bypassed the normal committee process and triggered criticism from centrist Republicans that the caucus was denying Koskinen his right to due process.
But Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, insisted Thursday morning that the deal was a win because it eliminates any excuses members might have not to impeach Koskinen.
Pointing to a Wall Street Journal op-ed he wrote in July 2015, Jordan said the Freedom Caucus had been pushing for over a year to force Koskinen to testify under oath.
“We’ve heard from some that we need to have [Koskinen] under oath under impeachment,” Jordan told The Daily Signal. “We said OK. We’ve been pushing for that. There are no reasons left for people not to, I think, fire Mr. Koskinen from commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.”
Conservatives argue that Koskinen is unfit to lead the IRS because, they allege, he obstructed a congressional investigation into the agency’s unfair treatment of tea party and other conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status before and after the 2012 elections. Koskinen has said those accusations are “without merit.”
Lois Lerner, head of the office that decides which groups get such status, resigned and invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself as Congress probed the agency’s actions.
Some in the GOP caucus have accused the Freedom Caucus of playing politics with impeachment of Koskinen.
“Nothing but impeachment was appropriate until the end [of the debate],” a senior GOP aide told The Daily Signal. “The votes were there to table it. But at the 11th hour they realized the motion to table was going to pass, and this was a very convenient escape cord.”
Freedom Caucus members reject that characterization, a second GOP aide said.
“Our goal has and continues to be to impeach Commissioner Koskinen,” the staffer told The Daily Signal, adding that a new hearing “will make it very difficult for skeptical Republicans to go back home and say they think he deserves to keep his job.”
Before Wednesday night’s deal, House Democrats warned they would vote unanimously to table a “privileged resolution,” the parliamentary measure conservatives employed to force a vote on impeaching Koskinen.
If more centrist Republicans joined them, Democrats could tip the balance against the Freedom Caucus and impeachment.
Long before any vote was scheduled, Republican leadership continued to slow-walk Koskinen’s impeachment until now.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters in April he prefers allowing the next president to make personnel changes. And Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has refused to hold anything more than informational hearings.
The House Judiciary Committee, under the deal, has agreed to hold a hearing next Wednesday. There, Republicans will have an opportunity to question Koskinen, and in turn, the top taxman will have an opportunity to respond.
But on Thursday afternoon, Jordan told The Daily Signal he was unsure whether the Judiciary Committee had sent a subpoena to Koskinen or he had agreed to appear and testify under oath.
The hearing schedule makes any impeachment vote unlikely until the lame-duck session, the period after the Nov. 8 election but before the new Congress convenes. Conservatives have regularly decried lame-duck legislation as illegitimate and have held up a short-term spending bill to avoid the session.
The impeachment process has two steps. First, the House passes articles of impeachment laying out alleged offenses. Next, the Senate holds a trial to decide whether to convict, and possibly remove from office, the official who was impeached.
But if Republicans wait for the next president to replace Koskinen, the commissioner would likely serve more than two months between Election Day and the inauguration.
Rep. John Fleming, R-La., acknowledged the possibility of a delay. Fleming, along with Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., first introduced the privileged resolution to force a vote on impeachment.
“That could very well happen, but again we will get the hearing,” Fleming told The Daily Signal. “By getting this consent to move forward with this, it actually moves the process along, picks it up, and prolongs it.”
Fleming took a more aggressive tone before conservatives cut the deal Wednesday.
“Any motion to table or refer to a committee is meant to kill the impeachment,” Fleming wrote in a statement Tuesday, “and should be viewed as a vote against impeachment by that member.”
Fleming’s office also noted that the Judiciary Committee held a hearing May 24 on the allegations against Koskinen, but the IRS chief “declined to appear.”
Huelskamp questioned the value of a second hearing in an interview with The Daily Signal. “What if Koskinen just doesn’t show up? What if he sends a letter to plead the Fifth?”
Both Fleming and Huelskamp said they reserved the right to reintroduce a privileged resolution.
And Huelskamp, who leaves office after the lame-duck session, told The Daily Signal that he is still considering whether to restart the process on his own. A Freedom Caucus aide told Fox News Channel that Huelskamp’s actions are “beyond our control.”
The leader of Tea Party Patriots, a group targeted by the IRS, urged lawmakers to act this month before they depart Washington for a monthlong recess prior to Election Day.
“If John Koskinen wants a hearing, give him a hearing,” Jenny Beth Martin told The Daily Signal. “Everyone will know he lied to Congress and allowed evidence to be destroyed. Once they understand that, they need to do the right thing and they need to do it before they go on vacation. … The House needs to vote to impeach John Koskinen.”