Last July, just as the House was preparing to break for summer recess, Rep. Mark Meadows shocked his colleagues by offering a motion to oust then-Speaker John Boehner.
This year, Meadows and his House Freedom Caucus colleagues may be celebrating that anniversary by offering a motion to claim the head of another sitting government official. The group is actively discussing bringing up a privileged motion just before the mid-July break forcing a vote on the impeachment of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
The Freedom Caucus has been pushing GOP leaders for an impeachment vote for months. In a private meeting earlier this year, Meadows and Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan told Speaker Paul Ryan that they would consider the privileged motion if the Judiciary Committee did not hold hearings on the issue.
House leaders may have thought that agreeing to hearings took the motion tactic off the table, but the Freedom Caucus does not see it that way. Now that the hearings came and went, Jordan and his crew are again eyeing the privileged motion in order to force the issue to the House floor.
“We have never given up on pushing as hard as we can and in any way we can to push impeachment,” Jordan said in an interview Tuesday. “We are looking to persuade our leadership to move forward with impeachment because that’s what’s warranted.”
Ryan—like Boehner before him—has been reticent to move ahead on impeachment. Leaders believe that there is not a foolproof case against Koskinen, that an impeachment vote would be unnecessarily partisan and acrimonious, and that the Senate would not move forward even if the House voted to impeach. On top of that, leaders think it would set a dangerous precedent; no appointed executive branch official has been impeached since 1876.
Koskinen is accused of allowing or ordering the destruction of backup tapes that some Republicans say contained emails proving that his predecessor, Lois Lerner, targeted conservative groups for increased scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status. They also say he gave false testimony, though Democrats contend that all of those allegations are overblown.
The Freedom Caucus has made the impeachment a crusade. If leaders decline to move forward, or if they only move ahead with a relatively toothless censure of Koskinen, a member of the group could decide to bring up the motion.
“Let’s say hypothetically leadership doesn’t want to go that far. At some point, whether leadership agrees or not, a privileged motion comes to the floor,” said one Freedom Caucus member, speaking anonymously to discuss their strategy. “If it’s done right before the break, it becomes a campaign issue over the summer and we come back and either we vote to impeach or we vote to keep him.”
Any member can bring up a privileged motion with no notice. Once it is brought up, leaders have 72 legislative hours to hold a vote on the underlying issue. If the motion is brought up just before recess, leaders would have until the House returns to act unless they choose to bring the motion up right away.
A Judiciary Committee aide said that since the two hearings they held, the panel is reflecting on their options and whether Congress should take further action. One of those actions could be a vote to censure Koskinen, but there is no guarantee that would satisfy all of the members of the Freedom Caucus.
Meadows, for his part, said that he is holding out hope that Ryan and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte will report an impeachment resolution out of committee and onto the House floor.
“There’s really been no discussions between leadership and members of the Freedom Caucus that would suggest we’re going any direction other than proceeding ahead with Chairman Goodlatte,” Meadows said.
Winning an impeachment vote may be a tall order. Democrats say an inspector general looked into the allegations and found mid-level employees destroyed the tapes, not Koskinen. And there is no guarantee that the Freedom Caucus could convince their fellow Republicans that the alleged misconduct rises to the level of an impeachable offense.
Of course, those same Republicans would be hard-pressed to defend the IRS when the agency remains deeply unpopular with their base. Politically endangered Democrats could find themselves in an awkward political position with the vote as well. If the motion is brought just before recess, the vote wouldn’t occur until September, just two months before Election Day.