Quick quiz: when was the last time the U.S. Congress actually impeached an appointed executive branch official? It was 1876 – 140 years ago – when the House impeached Ulysses S. Grant’s War Secretary, William Belknap, over corruption allegations.
Nearly a century and a half later, House Republicans appear eager to give Belknap some company. The Washington Post reported yesterday:
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) introduced a resolution on Wednesday to censure IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, raising the stakes in the GOP war against the tax collector days before a hearing on whether to impeach him.The four-page resolution seeks Koskinen’s resignation or removal by President Obama and calls on the IRS chief to forfeit his federal pension.
Chaffetz, the far-right chairman of the House Oversight Committee, explained in a statement yesterday, “I view censure as a precursor to impeachment.” He added a few weeks ago, “My foremost goal is impeachment and I’m not letting go of it.”
No, of course not. That might be responsible.
By any sane metric, the idea of congressional impeachment against the IRS commissioner is bonkers. House Republicans are apparently still worked up about an IRS “scandal” that doesn’t exist, and though Koskinen wasn’t even at the agency at the time of the alleged wrongdoing, GOP lawmakers want to impeach him because they disapprove of his handling of the imaginary controversy.
Given that the year is half over, Koskinen won’t be in the job much longer – he’ll likely leave office when the Obama administration wraps up – and there’s no credible reason to believe the Senate will remove the IRS chief from office, why bother with impeachment? Politico reported something interesting yesterday:
Two weeks ago, in a closed-door meeting with Paul Ryan, Reps. Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows gave the speaker an ultimatum: They would force a House vote to impeach the IRS commissioner — unless he allowed the Judiciary Committee to take action against John Koskinen instead.The two founding members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus had been working behind the scenes for well over a year to take down Koskinen for accusations that he obstructed a congressional investigation. GOP leaders and senior republicans, however, had never been keen on the idea, fearing it was ultimately futile and that the spectacle would backfire on Republicans.
Right-wing lawmakers would not, however, take no for answer. Jordan and Meadows vowed to force an impeachment vote onto the floor unless House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) signed off an impeachment hearing in the Judiciary Committee, and the Republican leader relented. The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
But given the fact that Koskinen hasn’t actually committed any impeachable offenses, it’s hard not to get the impression that many House Republicans want to impeach someone, anyone, just for the sake of being able to say they impeached someone.
As we discussed last fall, congressional Republicans have spent years talking up the idea of impeaching President Obama. At various times, GOP lawmakers have also considered impeaching then-Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. In October, one Republican congressman said he’s eager to impeach Hillary Clinton, and she hasn’t even been elected.
I continue to believe much of this is borne of partisan frustration: Republican investigations into Benghazi and other manufactured “scandals,” including the IRS matter itself, have effectively evaporated into nothing. That’s deeply unsatisfying to GOP hardliners, who remain convinced there’s Obama administration wrongdoing lurking right around the corner, even if they can’t see it, find it, prove it, or substantiate it any way.
Unwilling to move on empty handed, impeaching the IRS chief will, if nothing else, make Republican lawmakers feel better about themselves.
But that doesn’t change the fact that this partisan tantrum is indefensible. Koskinen took on the job of improving the IRS out of a sense of duty – the president asked this veteran public official to tackle a thankless task, and Koskinen reluctantly agreed. For his trouble, Republicans want to impeach him, for reasons even they’ve struggled to explain.
It’s ridiculous, even by the low standards of this Congress.