WASHINGTON — Last week, a House committee released testimony from an IRS whistleblower accusing the Justice Department of interfering in the federal tax collection unit’s investigation of President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, who Florida Governor Ron DeSantis believes was given a «love deal.»
Yet this week, DeSantis said he would abolish the agency that launched the Hunter Biden investigation if he wins the presidency.
DeSantis, who is second in national polls for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, also said he would eliminate the Departments of Energy and Education, which date from the Jimmy Carter administration, and the Department of Commerce, which dates from Teddy Roosevelt. .
“We would do education, we would do commerce, we would do energy and we would do IRS,” DeSantis told Fox News host Martha McCallum. In his next breath, he recognized the most glaring obstacle to keeping those promises: he would need Congress to deliver.
DeSantis did not elaborate on his plans, and a spokesman for his campaign did not respond to a request for comment on whether, as president, DeSantis would try to move programs to other departments or give the ax to the agency at the center of the investigation. Hunter Biden’s finances could encourage the powerful to evade taxes.
“The timing is strange,” said a Republican strategist who is not aligned with either presidential campaign, noting that IRS whistleblowers will be in the spotlight in the coming weeks.
«As House Republicans continue to work with whistleblowers, the IRS has already gotten a plea deal out of Hunter Biden, and the idea that we should let the political elite get away with crimes doesn’t sit well with him. to the republican». base,» said the strategist.
DeSantis may have left himself open to criticism by not putting more meat on the bone of his proposal at a time when he is just beginning to implement his policies on the campaign trail.
“DeSantis doesn’t really have any detailed plans,” said Steven Cheung, a spokesman for former President Donald Trump, who is leading in national polls for the Republican nomination.
«Everything that comes out of his mouth is just incomprehensible word salad with no real details,» Cheung said. «On the other hand, President Trump has released the boldest, most detailed and most transparent policy plan, Agenda 47, which lays out exactly what a second Trump term will look like.»
The battle highlights a point of tension as DeSantis tries to maneuver to Trump’s political right on a number of issues. What is popular with conservative primary voters is not always helpful to the party’s nominee in a general election.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally who sought to kill all three departments in 1995, declined to comment on the details of DeSantis’ proposal. But he called for a «debureaucratization» of the federal government.
«I think it’s inevitable that we’re going to have a very deep and dramatic reorganization of the system,» Gingrich said in a brief phone interview with NBC News. He pointed to the example of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, who signed legislation reducing the number of state cabinet-level agencies from 37 to 16, as a role model at the federal level.
«She may be the case study,» Gingrich said.
But the massive reorganization of government has been much easier at the state level than at the federal level. There are advocates for the work of entire departments, from legislators to agency officials, and from interest groups to individual citizens.
«How realistic is it for a presidential candidate to say they will abolish an agency? It’s realistic to say it, but not to do it,» said Brian W. Smith, a professor of political science at St. Edwards University in Texas. «Talk is cheap, but killing an agency is not.»
Smith said it’s not just an agency’s presence in Washington, which is typically the focus of much political rhetoric centered around departmental abolition, but the impact that any agency’s abolition can have across the country. .
«The abolition of the agencies is a dirty and nasty process with clear losers: people and communities depend on these agencies for their livelihood,» he said. «Right across the street from my college is an IRS facility. What happens to the people who work there?»
Raymond Orbach, who was sworn in as the Department of Energy’s first assistant secretary for science in June 2006, said the agency’s functions are vital to national security and scientific advancement.
«What people don’t understand is that this is not just a federal agency, but a federal agency that runs 17 national laboratories. It’s the biggest supporter of medical science, bigger,» he said, than the National Science Foundation, » and it has an extraordinary and important reach throughout the country».
Additionally, it is home to the National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains the country’s stockpiles of nuclear weapons and works on global security and non-proliferation efforts.
«NNSA’s relationship with the rest of the department and basic science is crucial,» Orbach said. “It is a complex relationship that has been built over time.”
Still, DeSantis is the latest in a long line of Republicans to propose cutting Energy and the other departments.
Ronald Reagan criticized the creation of the Department of Education when he ran against Carter in 1980, but it remained intact throughout his two terms. Fifteen years later, Gingrich finally compromised with the GOP-controlled Senate to preserve the Energy, Education and Commerce departments in the congressional budget for that year.
In 2012, then-Texas Governor Rick Perry memorably forgot the name of the Department of Energy, which he would later run for Trump, during a televised primary debate.
Rep. Darren Soto, a Florida Democrat who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said DeSantis’ proposal «would threaten national security and public safety, drive us into a recession, and allow discrimination generalized» if enacted.
«Commerce is our main jobs agency, driving our current manufacturing boom and overseeing parts of our ambitious infrastructure plan,» Soto said. «Education protects students with disabilities and English language learners. And the IRS raises the funds to run our US military and other key federal programs.»
Abolishing the IRS has become a popular call to action among conservatives in recent years. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, campaigned on the idea when he ran for president in 2016, and some of his aides on that ticket are now working to elect DeSantis.
Rep. Buddy Carter, a Georgia Republican, introduced legislation this year that would kill off the IRS as part of a broader plan to replace income, gift, payroll and estate taxes with a flat national sales tax. which would start at 23% in 2025.
Democrats believe the single tax plan, which Speaker Kevin McCarthy agreed to take to the House as part of a deal to secure votes for his presidency, it will backfire on republicans politically.
«They want to increase taxes on the middle class by taxing thousands of everyday items like groceries, gasoline, clothing and cutting taxes for the richest,» Biden said in january. «They want working-class people to pay another 10 or 20 percent in taxes, depending on where they live and how they spend their money. And they’re going to cut taxes for the super-rich.»
Trump proposed sweeping cuts to Department of Education and Commerce programs during his tenure. But he did not seek to eliminate any Cabinet department or the IRS.
One measure of the possible political backlash to the single tax idea, which Republicans call the «fair tax,» is the way allies of the main contenders for the Republican nomination have ripped off every candidate over it.
Trump’s super PAC MAGA Inc. released an ad in May accusing DeSantis of wanting to raise taxes based on his co-sponsorship of an earlier version of Carter’s bill when he was a member of the House. Never Back Down, the DeSantis-supporting superPAC, responded by pulling together previous clips of Trump mentioning «flat» and «fair» taxes while advocating for the US to simplify its tax system.
The broad concept of getting rid of the IRS is popular with Republican primary voters, according to strategists and polls.
“As a Republican, every time you talk about eliminating the IRS, you get applause,” said David Urban, a former Trump campaign adviser who is neutral on the race. He noted that Biden’s push to beef up IRS enforcement has made the issue a particularly hot topic for Republicans.
That may dwarf the timing of DeSantis’ promise, made as House Republicans demand testimony from top Justice Department and IRS officials following whistleblower allegations that political considerations impeded the agency’s investigation.
What’s unclear is how DeSantis plans to raise revenue if he does away with the IRS but doesn’t switch to a national sales tax.
Cheung said Trump’s specificity in politics is a key contrast to DeSantis.
«That’s why he’s dominating poll after poll, both nationally and statewide, and he’s the only candidate who can beat Joe Biden,» Cheung said of Trump.