House Republicans filed papers Tuesday to begin impeachment proceedings against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen over the agency’s alleged campaign to revoke the tax-exempt status of tea party-affiliated groups. The resolution -- filed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and 18 other members of the committee -- accuses Koskinen of lying to Congress about agency emails that were found to be missing.
For years, congressional Republicans have been very excited about the prospect 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. Last week, one Republican congressman said he's eager to impeach Hillary Clinton, and she hasn't even won yet.
In each instance, far-right members of Congress have struggled to explain why, exactly, any of these officials actually deserve to be impeached, and Republicans never took their efforts beyond the rhetorical stage.
Yesterday's actions, however, represent an escalation.
Just on the surface, it's alarming that too many Republicans look at Congress' impeachment power as if it were some kind of toy, to be pulled off the shelf and played with whenever it offers opportunities for entertainment.
But what's also striking about this is the GOP lawmakers' sense of timing. It was late last week that the Justice Department completed a lengthy and rigorous investigation into the imaginary IRS "scandal," concluding that no laws were broken and no charges would be filed.
It's against this backdrop that House Republicans have decided to pursue impeachment against the IRS commissioner who not only did nothing wrong, but who wasn't even at the IRS at the time of the institution's alleged misdeeds.
In a written statement, the House Oversight Committee's ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), said, "This ridiculous resolution will demonstrate nothing but the Republican obsession with diving into investigative rabbit holes that waste tens of millions of taxpayer dollars while having absolutely no positive impact on a single American. Calling this resolution a ‘stunt’ or a ‘joke’ would be insulting to stunts and jokes."
To be sure, this doesn't come completely out of the blue. The New York Times reported last week that Republicans were considering this move, though the report added that “the specifics of any supposed impeachable offenses are vague.”
So why bother with this nonsense? I suspect 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 there's also an even larger context. The Republican base doesn't like the budget deal, or the lack of effort in repealing the Affordable Care Act, or really much of anything that's come from the GOP-led Congress. Party leaders need something to placate their activist base, and perhaps a baseless impeachment crusade looks appealing.
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 can't rationalize.
It's ridiculous, even by the low standards of this Congress.