For starters, few in the GOP want an ugly impeachment brawl breaking out in the midst of an election year. Senate Republicans, in fact, reportedly had plans for promptly derailing impeachment if it somehow made it out of the House.
More broadly, there is concern that impeaching Koskinen would set a bad precedent, lowering the bar and opening the floodgates to future prosecutions. Back in May, Republican Orin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, declared that any effort to oust Koskinen would be D.O.A. in the upper chamber. “We can have our disagreements with him,” said Hatch, “but that doesn’t mean there’s an impeachable offense.”
There has been a lack of enthusiasm among some House Republicans as well. Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte has held hearings on the issue but has shown little inclination to call a vote. Neither has leadership embraced the cause. “The definition of impeachment, people have a different opinion," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters last month. "That is the discussion that goes around in our conference.”
Freedom Caucusers are growing ever more frustrated. In late September, Reps. Tim Huelskamp and John Fleming moved to circumvent the Judiciary chairman and force a floor vote through a special procedural motion. At the last minute, a deal was cut to delay the vote and instead have Goodlatte bring in Koskinen for a formal hearing.
With such ambivalence about impeachment even among Republicans, why doesn’t the Freedom Caucus try for a less fraught punishment for Koskinen, such as censure? (The groundwork is there: Chaffetz’s Oversight Committee has already voted along party lines for censure.) Because the Koskinen impeachment crusade isn’t really about John Koskinen. Rather, the commissioner has emerged as the perfect symbol of so many things that conservatives love to hate.
On the most basic level, Koskinen heads the IRS, a perennial big-government punching bag for Republicans even absent scandal. Now, as the face of a powerful agency accused of thumbing its nose at congressional investigators, Koskinen exemplifies for conservatives, as the 45Committee ad puts it, “the arrogance of the Obama administration.”
As such, taking him down wouldn’t just be holding the IRS accountable; it would be a step toward reining in what conservatives see as an executive branch run amok. (Reclaiming congressional authority has become a big issue for the GOP of late.) As Jordan noted, “There is hope it will reassert the constitutional role of the legislative branch relative to how it relates to the executive branch.”
Even more broadly, said Jordan, this is about striking a blow for fairness. “Americans are so frustrated about this,” he said. “They have rightly concluded that there are two standards—a double standard. One standard is for you and me, and there is a different one for Lois Lerner or John Koskinen or Hillary Clinton”—those who Jordan deems “part of the politically connected class.” (Ironically, the 5th-term congressman does not count himself among this class.)
With so much on the line, there’s no way conservatives can just give up on booting Koskinen. “For all those reasons,” said Jordan, “we have kept pushing.” Besides, the commissioner’s current term doesn’t end until next December, which gives Jordan & Co. another whole year to keep “pushing.” As they see it, whatever the precise sins of the man, the symbol must be brought down.