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Republican deal averts vote on impeaching head of IRS

In this Feb. 10 file photo, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)
In this Feb. 10 file photo, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)
By Erica Werner Associated Press

WASHINGTON – A last-minute deal between conservatives and GOP leaders in the House averted votes expected Thursday on a measure to impeach the commissioner of the IRS.

Instead, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen will testify before Congress next week.

The conservative House Freedom Caucus celebrated the development as a victory, as conservatives had long pushed GOP leaders for impeachment hearings against Koskinen. They accuse him of obstructing a congressional investigation into the treatment of tea party groups seeking tax exemptions.

But the agreement canceling the votes came only after conservatives themselves predicted that their impeachment resolution was going to get sidelined by Democratic and Republican opposition Thursday. So instead they settled for a hearing next Wednesday, which would result in an impeachment vote only after the November presidential election, if ever.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin welcomed the resolution, telling journalists Thursday that it “was a good way to work things out.” Neither Ryan nor other House GOP leaders had embraced the impeachment push, but Ryan, who needs to maintain conservative support, had also avoided publicly criticizing the move.

“I think it’s a win-win for everybody,” said GOP Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, a ringleader of the impeachment effort. “And ultimately, we get the hearing, we get the information, and hopefully we’ll have more disclosures that tell us it’s important to go ahead and end this man’s tenure as head of the IRS.”

However, it would take only one aggrieved conservative to revive the impeachment on the House floor, so the deal does not definitively rule out a vote before the election.

Koskinen has disputed the allegations against him in private meetings with House Republicans in recent days, while in public,the agency insisted Wednesday that he “remains focused on the critical work needed for the nation’s tax system.”

Some Republicans, while critical of Koskinen’s conduct, questioned whether it amounted to the constitutional standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” They worried about setting a bad precedent in pursuing the impeachment claim, especially just ahead of the election. The original conduct the House was investigating, related to how tea party groups were dealt with by the IRS, happened before Koskinen’s tenure.

Already this week, President Barack Obama had seized on the issue to ridicule the GOP-led Congress, calling the impeachment push “crazy.”

Because House Republican leadership had balked on moving forward on impeachment proceedings, the Freedom Caucus had used a procedural maneuver that would have forced a floor vote Thursday. But Freedom Caucus members themselves were predicting earlier Wednesday that their resolution would end up getting tabled, which would effectively have killed it.

“The table motion will prevail; at least, that’s my expectation,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina said before the vote was canceled.

Yet going after Koskinen and the IRS was popular with many conservatives frustrated in their attempts to hold administration officials to account, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, over the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency.

“Who’s going to come rushing to the defense of the IRS?” Mulvaney asked. “Face it, if you were going to hold one person accountable, this might be the one guy we could do it with.”

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