When the House Judiciary Committee convenes on Tuesday to consider the alleged misdeeds of the Internal Revenue Service commissioner, John Koskinen, it will contemplate action that has not been taken in more than 140 years, and that in some respects has never been pursued: the impeachment of an agency head of Mr. Koskinen's rank. Tuesday's hearing on accusations by House Republicans that Mr. Koskinen lied under oath to Congress and defied a congressional subpoena is a remarkable moment, even for a Washington long fractured by partisanship.
If you've been waiting for cooler heads to prevail, and for House Republicans to give up on its ridiculous impeachment crusade, you're going to be disappointed by today's developments.
Koskinen has decided not to appear at the "misconduct" hearing, at which GOP lawmakers will lay out its case for impeachment, insisting he hasn't had enough time to prepare a defense against allegations that obviously have no merit.
Of course, even if Koskinen had agreed to participate in the charade, the end result would be the same. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the far-right chairman of the House Oversight Committee, hasn't exactly been subtle about his intentions: "My foremost goal is impeachment and I'm not letting go of it."
Do the allegations against the IRS commissioner have merit? No. The IRS "scandal" was discredited years ago -- Koskinen wasn't even at the tax agency when the imaginary controversy unfolded -- and as Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) documented this morning, charges that Koskinen was part of some kind of after-the-fact cover-up don't make any sense.
Will the impeachment push succeed anyway? Not in its ultimate goal. House Republicans will likely get a simple majority to impeach Koskinen, but to remove Koskinen from office, they'll need a two-thirds majority in the Senate. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has said that's not going to happen. "[F]or the most part he's been very cooperative with us," the Utah Republican conceded last week.*
All of which raises the question of why in the world the far-right House majority is so desperate to pursue such an absurd course, targeting a dedicated public servant who'll leave his post at the end of the year anyway.
The real scandal here is not Koskinen's actions, but rather, the way in which House Republicans are conducting themselves.
I continue to believe many House Republicans want to impeach someone, anyone, just for the sake of being able to say they impeached someone. It appears GOP lawmakers have a partisan itch, and going through the motions on impeachment is their way of scratching it.
As we discussed last week, 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.
The partisan frustration is understandable: 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.
As for the history, which Rachel referenced in last night's show, it's been 140 years since Congress impeached an appointed executive branch official, but Congress has literally never impeached an executive branch official below the cabinet level.
Then again, Americans have arguably never seen a radicalized political party take control of the House and Senate comparable to today's Republican majority.
* Correction: I misstated one of the details of the House impeachment process. The above text has been corrected.