Benghazi Committee A Prelude To Impeachment?
Slate’s David Weigel wonders if the upcoming House Select Committee on Benghazi will be the first step on the road to impeachment of President Obama:
On Saturday night, as Washington’s press corps was distracted by a surge of celebrity selfie opportunities, it was missing a kind of milestone. Jeanine Pirro, a former NewYork Republican star who tumbled out of politics and onto Fox News, was calling for the impeachment of President Obama over “a story no one wants to talk about.”
The story was the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. Referring to that, on Fox, as “a story no one wants to talk about” sounded a bit like CNN asking where all the Flight 370 coverage had been. Not Pirro’s point—she was saying that the media failed to see where the Benghazi story was going to lead. Hint: Impeachment.
“We have impeached a president for lying about sex with an intern,” she said. “A president resigned in the face of certain impeachment for covering up a burglary. Why wouldn’t we impeach this president for not protecting and defending Americans in the bloodbath known as Benghazi?” Pirro then addressed the president directly—though at this point in the evening he was giving a sardonic dinner speech—with a warning that “your dereliction of duty as commander-in-chief demands your impeachment.”
Just one segment on a slow news night, but there was a sense of inevitability about it, of the Overton Window being shifted by hand. Ever since the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks, Republicans and conservatives have compared the Obama administration’s on-the-ground failure and intra-office spin job to Watergate.Politicos compare contemporary scandals to Watergate for one of two reasons: Laziness, or to gently raise the specter of impeachment.
The only thing that tamps down impeachment talk is the fear of a backlash, of looking crazy—of looking like former Rep. Dan Burton, basically. Ever since Republicans took back the House of Representatives, Speaker of the House John Boehner has fretted that one of their investigations would veer into the same fever swamp where Burton shot at pumpkins to re-enact theories about the death of Vince Foster. Boehner, elected in 1990, remembers how Republicans bet the entire 1998 election on the impeachment of Bill Clinton, and how their subsequent surprise defeat ended the speakership of Newt Gingrich.
“We’re probably one email away from Benghazi being an impeachable offense for much of our party,” fretted Republican lobbyist Ed Rogers in 2012, right after Obama’s re-election. “I think that’s nuts, but that’s where we are right now.”
That’s why Boehner’s endorsement of the select committee on Benghazi was sosignificant. “At one time,” former Rep. Pete Hoekstra told Newsmax, “Speaker Boehner said, if there’s any indication that that this leads to the White House, you know we’re going to go after this.” Boehner knew that Democrats would spend the next few months or years deriding a “witch hunt,” just as they mocked the Clinton impeachment.
And that’s also why the backup from Fox News matters, and why more conservatives will join the discussion. Next month the attorney and National Review columnist Andrew McCarthy will publish Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment. “There is a rich legal case,” writes McCarthy, “but impeachment is not about what the law allows. Impeachment is a matter of political will.”
McCarthy’s book is brief and structured around seven potential articles of impeachment, which accuse the president of everything from “usurping the constitutional authority of prerogatives of Congress” (for example, making recess appointments when Boehner refused to recess the House) to “failure to execute the immigration laws faithfully” to, inevitably, “the Benghazi fraud.”
Impeachment talks has been something that has been around virtually since the moment that President Obama took office in 2009. It has, however, been largely relegated to the fringes of the right as Weigel notes, and something that most well-known conservative pundits and politicians have avoided talking about at all. You never hear people like Limbaugh or Hannity mention it, for example, and outside of the Saturday evening program noted above, it’s not a subject that receives much attention on Fox News Channel. The reasons for this, I think, are two-fold. First, most of these people know that talking about impeachment, even with all the hype that they have given to stories like Benghazi, the IRS, and Fast & Furious, just makes them sound nuts to the average American. Second, there are still many people on the right who remember the Clinton impeachment of 1998-99 and the damage that it ended up doing to the GOP on the eve of a Presidential election. The idea of making a similar effort again in 2014 or 2015, with the next Presidential election on the radar, would be a tremendous and probably fatal political risk that would accomplish nothing more than riling up a conservative base that already hates the President, and feels pretty much the same about likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. As far as the rest of electorate is concerned, though, even President Obama’s negative job approval numbers at the moment aren’t likely to be sufficient to prevent the political damage the GOP would do to itself if it pursued impeachment based on the facts we have in front of us.
Despite all of that, though, in many ways seems to be moving inexorably toward the circumstances that would make consideration of Articles of Impeachment in the Republican controlled House of Representatives a virtual inevitability. In addition to McCarthy’s upcoming book, there was also the 2013 incident that Weigel notes in the article in which Ted Cruz was asked by a constituent why the GOP wasn’t aggressively pursuing impeachment. Cruz’s response was, “Good question.” There have been reports of other Republican legislators receiving similar questions when they meet with constituents, and while most of them do a better job of dodging the question than Cruz did they also don’t denounce the question for the silliness that it actually is. Combine that with the fact that the House GOP Caucus, which is where the movement for impeachment would begin, is very much under the control of the Tea Party notwithstanding the positions taken by the GOP Leadership team, and it isn’t all that hard to conceive of a 2015 in which Republicans try to make the same move against Barack Obama that they tried against Bill Clinton 16 years ago. The odds of this happening would seem to increase if the GOP does indeed take control of the Senate this year.
The outcome of any impeachment is easy to foresee, of course. Even if the GOP takes control of the Senate there would still be a sufficient number of Democrats in the Senate to deny the House the 2/3 vote it would need to convict. Additionally, there would likely be several Republican Senators who would be reluctant to go along with the impeachment of a President for what amount to policy disputes and conspiracy theories that haven’t been proven in even the remotest sense of the word. Of course, everyone knew in 1998 that the impeachment of Bill Clinton would fail as well and Republicans still went forward with it, so perhaps this is something we shouldn’t dismiss so readily.