WASHINGTON—The House is moving toward a showdown vote later this month over whether to impeach IRS chief John Koskinen. But with no chance the Senate would vote to actually remove him from office, Republicans stood divided over the effort’s wisdom in the shadow of this fall’s presidential and congressional elections.
With GOP leaders eager to send lawmakers home to defend their seats by September’s end, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday he hoped to reach compromise with the White House and Senate Democrats over legislation temporarily financing the government until Dec. 9 and for combatting the Zika virus.
Agreements would avert the possibility of an Oct. 1 government shutdown certain to annoy voters, and address a disease whose initial spread in South Florida has become a political issue in that election battleground state.
Until now, both efforts—including $1.1 billion for Zika—have been bogged down by partisan Senate fights. Democrats want GOP-sought defense increases to be matched with domestic program boosts and have opposed Republican language blocking Zika prevention and treatment money from going to Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico.
“We’re looking for a way forward and I’m hopeful and optimistic that we’ll be able to do that” so the full Senate could consider legislation next week, McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters.
Vice President Joe Biden planned to join congressional Democrats at a news conference Thursday to pressure Republicans to also address issues like the burden of student loans and President Barack Obama’s March nomination of Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. But it was clear the House and Senate will focus on must-pass issues before leaving town for the campaign’s final stretch.
Republicans said House GOP lawmakers will meet next Thursday to discuss what to do about conservatives’ demands that Koskinen be impeached. Conservatives say Koskinen impeded a congressional investigation of how the IRS improperly treated tea party groups seeking tax exemptions years ago.
Conservatives seeking his impeachment are using a procedure that would let them force such a vote, but they said they’re willing to wait until after next week’s meeting to do so. That means it would come up as soon as two weeks from now.
“It warrants that kind of action for the behavior the IRS and Mr. Koskinen used,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, whose members have pressed the effort.
The House has voted only 19 times to impeach federal officials: Two presidents, 15 federal judges, a senator and a Cabinet member. Only eight—all judges—have been convicted and removed from office by the Senate.
House GOP leaders have shown meager enthusiasm for such a vote on Koskinen, and its prospects are uncertain.
“Members are going to vote the way they want to vote on this,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters. He added, “You have members on both sides of this.”
Many Republicans consider it a tough vote they’d rather avoid. They say impeaching Koskinen risks making GOP lawmakers look overly partisan, potentially alienating moderate voters, but voting “no” would anger conservatives whose support they’ll need in November’s elections.
Some Republicans are considering trying to instead send the issue to the House Judiciary Committee for its consideration.
“If you were to impeach and dump this right into the Senate, throw it in their hands right before a very contentious election, is that something they want to deal with right now?” said moderate Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa.
No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said he’d wait to see what the House does.
With a two-thirds majority required for impeachment conviction in the Senate, Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., all but dared Republicans to stage such a trial, saying, “Everyone knows the man is not going to be impeached.”
The House conservatives’ impeachment resolution accuses Koskinen of not answering congressional subpoenas, lying to Congress and other offenses.
Koskinen was not with the IRS when it conducted intensive investigations of tea party organizations years ago, acts for which it apologized in 2013. He has said the GOP charges against him are baseless.
Koskinen was at the Capitol Wednesday for separate meetings with moderate and conservative House Republicans.
“I don’t think there’s a serious case to be made” against him, Koskinen said in a brief interview.
Federal funds keeping agencies open expire Sept. 30. Many conservatives oppose a temporary extension until only December, when a post-election, lame-duck Congress could make final decisions on next year’s budget.
So negotiating with Democrats could give GOP leaders the votes they would need without conservatives to pass a temporary bill. That would leave final spending decisions for the post-election lame-duck Congress.