(Bloomberg) The House blocked an effort Tuesday by conservatives to force an impeachment vote against Internal Revenue Service commissioner John Koskinen, effectively taking the question off the congressional agenda for this year.
With Congress aiming to leave Washington by Friday, outgoing House Freedom Caucus Jim Jordan of Ohio called up a privileged resolution, which would have required a floor vote within two days. Instead, House members voted 342-72 to refer the measure to the Judiciary Committee, which will prevent a floor vote before the 114th Congress adjourns.
Republican leaders argued that saddling the Senate with an impeachment—a prospect that has gathered little enthusiasm among senators—at the beginning of January might have delayed other priorities, including the confirmation of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet appointees. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy referred to that possibility in brief comments to reporters Tuesday afternoon.
“That would be a problem for repealing Obamacare,” McCarthy said.
Impeaching the IRS commissioner would be an unprecedented move for Congress, which has never removed an official below the level of Cabinet secretary. But Freedom Caucus members have long sought the impeachment of Koskinen, whom they accuse of impeding an investigation into whether the tax agency improperly targeted conservative nonprofits. They can try to take the issue up again when the next Congress convenes in January.
When he took office in December 2013, Koskinen was immediately mired in the agency’s response to a scandal that predated his tenure: IRS officials admitted giving extra scrutiny to conservative groups that sought tax-exempt status beginning in 2010.
In an ensuing investigation, congressional subpoenas to the agency sought all communications sent or received by Lois Lerner, the agency’s former director of exempt organizations. Despite the pending subpoenas, IRS employees in West Virginia magnetically erased 422 backup tapes, which eliminated as many as 24,000 of her emails, in March 2014. Subsequent investigations by the Justice Department and the Treasury Department’s inspector general found that the destruction was accidental.
Regardless, Koskinen testified to Congress in June 2014 that “since the start of this investigation, every email has been preserved. Nothing has been destroyed.” He has said since then that his testimony reflected his understanding at the time.
The U.S. Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS, has called the impeachment drive baseless and a distraction, adding that Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew continues to have full confidence in Koskinen.
An impeachment resolution requires a simple majority of the House. It would then go to the Senate, which would try the case. Conviction requires a two-thirds vote, and Senate leaders have indicated that they don’t favor an effort to impeach Koskinen.
—With assistance from Ben Brody