Firebrand Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp is not going to go quietly.
After losing his primary last month, the chairman of the House tea party caucus is back in Washington, where he spearheaded efforts this week to impeach the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.
If successful, it would have been the first time since 1876 that the U.S. House of Representatives had voted to impeach an appointed official in the executive branch. The move has made Huelskamp, once again, a thorn in the side of his party’s leadership.
It’s a role Huelskamp seems determined to relish right up until he cleans out his desk in December.
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So it was no surprise when the anti-establishment Huelskamp joined Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana on Tuesday to introduce a privileged motion on the House floor to oust IRS Commissioner John Koskinen on allegations of lying to Congress.
Filing the motion put the House Republican leadership in an uncomfortable position: They didn’t want to be seen as defending the IRS, but they also didn’t want to hold such a politically charged vote right before elections.
In the end, GOP leaders reached a compromise with the conservative agitators. They would bring Koskinen to testify at a hearing next week in exchange for postponing any impeachment vote.
Huelskamp, Fleming and other far-right rebels in the House had been pushing to open impeachment proceedings against Koskinen since January.
They say he defied subpoenas and destroyed as many as 24,000 e-mails that should have been turned over for an investigation into the IRS’s targeting of tea party groups. Then he lied to Congress about it, they say.
“This gets down to does the House even matter?” Huelskamp said at a news conference earlier this week. “Can a member of the administration lie with impunity and without immunity, can they lie to Congress and get away with it? Anyone who votes against this motion is simply saying Congress doesn’t matter.”
Blaming Paul Ryan
Huelskamp scoffed at questions by some reporters about whether such an unusual impeachment would diminish the standing of the IRS with the American people.
“I don’t think you can get much lower,” he said. “At the end of the day, members of Congress have a choice: You’re either with the IRS or with the American people.”
Although his days in Congress are numbered, Huelskamp isn’t surrendering to the role of lame duck.
Far from being chastened by his 14 percentage-point loss Aug. 2 to political newcomer Roger Marshall, an obstetrician, Huelskamp returned to Capitol Hill defiant.
If anything, he’s more dedicated than ever to maintaining his status as an uncompromising Washington outsider.
He’s convinced that the Republican establishment undermined his re-election in retaliation for his refusal to toe the party line.
Huelskamp’s willingness to buck his party on key votes cost him his seat on the House Agriculture Committee in 2012.
Last year, he joined with other insurgent conservatives to force the resignation of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. He also opposed Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as Boehner’s successor.
Huelskamp threatened to vote against Paul Ryan, R-Wis., too, but in the end gave Ryan his support.
It’s clear Huelskamp does not think that support was returned in kind during his own hard-fought primary.
He and his colleagues in the House’s conservative freedom caucus blame Ryan for his defeat. They say Ryan ensured Huelskamp would lose by refusing to say publicly that he planned to restore Huelskamp’s seat on the Agriculture Committee.
Huelskamp’s inability to get back on that panel became a major issue in the re-election campaign, especially in rural western Kansas. The state’s Farm Bureau and other business groups backed his opponent, Marshall, who attacked Huelskamp for losing a seat on a key committee that his district had held for decades.
“Everybody knows if the speaker of the House says, ‘Tim Huelskamp is back on the Agriculture Committee,’ it makes a difference,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, told Politico. “Everybody knows that would have had an impact.”
Huelskamp said in an interview this week that Ryan “didn’t do anything” to help with his re-election.
“Actually his statements during the campaign undermined our candidacy,” he said. “He knew that, his staff knew that, we called them on that. They continued to make statements that undermined us during the campaign.”
Business as usual
To Huelskamp, it’s just business as usual in Washington. But that doesn’t make him any less bitter.
“So much of this place is dictated by major donors, the donor class,” Huelskamp said.
The donor class, he said, doesn’t like him because he doesn’t play by the rules.
“So many people here are dedicated to doing only what the donor class wants,” he added. “Maybe the donor class doesn’t want to go after the IRS. I don’t know why. It makes no political sense to not do our constitutional duty. I’m just bringing it up because Paul Ryan and McCarthy don’t want to do our constitutional duty.”
With just a few months left in office, Huelskamp figures there’s still time to shake things up.
Another revolt against House leadership could be in the works.
Ryan is well on his way to losing the support of hard-line conservatives like himself, Huelskamp said.
“He already does not have the votes to remain speaker, from what I hear,” he said. “It just depends on the numbers. There’s a long way to go.”