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Will A Republican Congress Impeach President Obama ?

Today at The New Republic, Jonathan Chait seems to think that Republican control of Congress will lead to another attempt at impeachment of a sitting Democratic President:

Hear me now and believe me later: If Republicans win and maintain control of the House of Representatives, they are going to impeach President Obama. They won’t do it right away. And they won’t succeed in removing Obama. (You need 67 Senate votes.) But if Obama wins a second term, the House will vote to impeach him before he leaves office.

Wait, you say. What will they impeach him over? You can always find something. Mini-scandals break out regularly in Washington. Last spring, the political press erupted in a frenzy over the news that the White House had floated a potential job to prospective Senate candidate Joe Sestak. On a scale of one to 100, with one representing presidential jaywalking and 100 representing Watergate, the Sestak job offer probably rated about a 1.5. Yet it was enough that GOP Representative Darrell Issa called the incident an impeachable offense.

It is safe to say that Issa’s threshold of what constitutes an impeachable offense is not terribly high. As it happens, should Republicans win control of the House, Issa would bring his hair-trigger finger to the chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The Sestak pseudo-scandal disappeared because there was no process to drive the story forward. Had Issa been running the Oversight Committee, it would have been the subject of hearings and subpoenas.

In some ways, this isn’t exactly news. Back in August, I noted that Republicans like Issa and Michelle Bachmann were already promising that the Sestak story, which seems to have been proven to be much ado about nothing, the New Black Panther Party story, and any other number of supposed “scandals” inside the Obama Administration would become the subject of Congressional investigations if the GOP took back the House. As I noted back then, it’s fairly apparent that the Republicans would be making a huge mistake if they turned their return to power into an excuse for partisan witch hunt on the eve of the 2012 election season:

The problem isn’t so much whether or not the GOP makes this investigation meme a part of the 2010 campaign, but what they do if and when they regain control of the House and/or Senate. While they haven’t done many smart things, I will say that the one thing that the Democratic Congressional leadership has been right about is resisting the temptation to give in to the demands of many on the left to launch Congressional investigations of the Bush Administration, either while Bush was still in power or after he left in January 2009. Politically, such hearings would have accomplished nothing and would have left the Democrats open to the charge that they wasted time on hearings while the economy burned (whether what they did instead of hearings was any better is, of course another question).

Chait, however, thinks that Republicans will ignore the political downside and go for blood against Obama the same way the did against President Clinton in 1998:

The Republicans wouldn’t dare repeat the mistake they made by impeaching Clinton, you say? You’re not thinking like a Republican. In the conservative mind, the impeachment crusade was not a political miscalculation but a misty, watercolored memory. A 2006 National Review retrospective of impeachment leader Henry Hyde captures the right’s view:

His only regret involves tactics. … “I should have demanded that Monica Lewinsky and Clinton testify.” Although Hyde did not achieve his main objective, it would be wrong to view the entire project as a failure.

In this interpretation, the process sufficiently tarnished Clinton so that his vice president was unable to run on the administration’s accomplishments and was easily tarred as a liar during the crucial stretch in October 2000 when the media pounced upon Gore’s veracity. “There are 13 people who are responsible for where we are now,” a Bush adviser told The Weekly Standard shortly before the 2000 election. “They are the House impeachment managers.”

The Clinton impeachment does not offer a useful guide to the Obama presidency if you think of it solely as a punishment for Clinton’s crime. But it’s more accurate to think about the Clinton impeachment as political warfare by other means against a president conservatives deemed illegitimate.

Some Republicans in Congress already seem to be embracing this view. While Issa is only talking about investigations, Michelle Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman who stands to gain a Committee Chairmanship if the GOP retakes the House, has openly talked about impeachment already:

When asked for her take on a recent charge made by former Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) that Obama stands vulnerable to impeachment based on a disputed claim from Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) that he’s declining to secure the country’s border along Mexico for political gain, Bachmann had this to say:

Whether or not this is an impeachable offense is one that the Congress would have to make a determination on. But I think clearly the president isn’t acting out of the best interests of what would be good for people’s safety and good for our economy.

But this isn’t the first time that Bachmann has found herself talking about the impeachment issue. Just last month the conservative congresswoman exclaimed, “Everywhere I go, people ask me, “Michele, can we impeach the president?” She added, “They want a referendum on him.”

Of course, by the time that Bachmann had made this statement, Kyl had already walked back his claim that the President had made any such statement. It doesn’t matter, however, because that statement has become part of the zeitgeist of conservative talk radio and blogs, and it’s a charge that we can expect to see raised again when the 2012 campaign begins in earnest.

Chait’s basic argument is that, much as they did in the 90’s, House Republicans will find something, anything, on which to hang the charge of wrongdoing in office on the President at some point before he leaves office. While he does have a point that GOP animus toward President Obama is as strong as it was against President Clinton, Chait misses several differences between now and then which may make it harder for an impeachment effort to be anything other than a fringe movement led by people like Bachmann.

For one thing, the House GOP leadership is far different today than it was then. Say what you will about them, but neither John Boehner nor Eric Cantor are Gingrich-style bomb throwers, and neither one of them strikes me as being the type of person who would be willing to risk GOP credibility on a specious charge of “high crimes of misdomeanors.” For another, Barack Obama is no Bill Clinton in that he does not carry the same baggage that the 42nd President did. There is no Whitewater in Barack Obama’s past, for example, no allegation that his wife made an extraordinary amount of money trading cattle futures for the first time in her life, and no history of infidelity and alleged sexual harrasment that made the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinksy tales credible even to people who had a positive opinion of President Clinton. So far, all the right has been able to bring up against Obama is the allegation that the Administration may have offered someone a job in the hopes that it would preclude him from entering a Senate race in Pennsylvania, and a much-ado-about-nothing story about voting rights violations by a bunch of hotheads in Philadelphia. Neither one of these even approach being illegal.

If the GOP is going to take down Obama, politically or legally, it’s going to have to be something much more serious than what the Sean Hannity’s of the world have been complaining about so far.

Chait closes with a question:

The history of modern Washington is a history of the social norms that once restrained political parties from no-holds-barred warfare falling by the wayside, one by one. Why would Republicans impeach Obama? The better question is, why wouldn’t they?

He does have a point, I suppose. American politics has become more absurd theater than rational debate, and pursuing baseless impeachment charges against the President would be right up that alley. At the same time, though, Republican politicians aren’t totally crazy and, like their Democratic counterparts who rejected efforts by Dennis Kucinich and others to pursue impeachment against President Bush after they gained control of Congress in 2006, I suspect that they’ll be just rational enough to  realize that impeachment would be a suicide mission.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Pete says:

    I agree. I think Chait is trying to goad the republicans into actually doing it so they shoot themselves in the foot.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  2. Wayne says:

    I think it is much more likely Obama will do something major first like Obama refusing to leave office , declaring martial law, trying to put a hit on an opponent, etc . He has support others that have done that in other countries. He also has shown little regard for the law.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  3. Michael says:

    Chait is a moron. He is just desperately trying to excite the unexcited Dem base. Simple as that and nothing more.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. Schooner says:

    There you go again Doug, assuming rationality where there is none.

    No Whitewater. no problem, they will investigate his house purchase.

    No scandals, no problem, Blagojevich will do nicely.

    If Angle, Miller and other tea party republicans get in they will impeach.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. c.red says:

    Right, I’ll believe it when I see it.

    The Republicans, with a very few exceptions, have not shown in any class, integrity or responsibility in the last two years, what indicates they will start now?

    At this point, I believe the Republican politicians are so afraid of Limbaugh, Beck and Fox in general, that when they start calling for impeachment the politicians will fall all over themselves to see who can get it going the fastest.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. floyd says:

    NOPE

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. sam says:

    @Wayne

    “I think it is much more likely Obama will do something major first like Obama refusing to leave office , declaring martial law, trying to put a hit on an opponent, etc .”

    You are completely out of your fvcking mind.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. I think it is much more likely Obama will do something major first like Obama refusing to leave office , declaring martial law, trying to put a hit on an opponent, etc . He has support others that have done that in other countries. He also has shown little regard for the law.

    There were morons on the left saying the same thing about George W. Bush. They were wingnuts and, if you actually believe that stuff, you are too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    The Republicans won’t try to impeach Obama because he has fool-proof insurance against being impeached: Joe Biden.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. Tano says:

    “If Angle, Miller and other tea party republicans get in they will impeach.”

    Well, I agree with the sentiment in most of your comment, but I would note here that Angel and Miller are running for the Senate, and it is the House that impeaches. They might represent 2 more votes to convict, but that still wouldn’t get them close to the 67 they would need for conviction.

    I tend to agree with Chait.. The currents that are moving the GOP these days have little grounding in rationality. It almost seems that the dumber the idea, the more likely it is that the GOP will embrace it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. Schooner says:

    I see you’re point Tano. I should have been more precise in saying that if the “tea party” types were elected in general, there would be a groundswell of support for impeachment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. EJ says:

    Tano,

    Are you such a partisan hack that you actually think the GOP will try to impeach him?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Wayne says:

    Re “There were morons on the left saying the same thing about George W. Bush. They were wingnuts and, if you actually believe that stuff, you are too.”

    About like believing the Republicans will go out of their way to find something to impeach Obama on. Read my comment closely and you will see “more likely” not that “he will”.
    Having a member or two calling for impeachment is far from actual impeachment. There were Dems who submitted proposal for impeachment of Bush. Labeling the whole party because of the action of one or two would be unfair wouldn’t you say? Or does that just apply to one party?

    Reps have said they will not take impeachment off the table and will conduct Congressional hearings. Big scandal! Right?!

    People pushing this story are to use Doug’s word wingnuts or in Sam’s word “You are completely out of your fvcking mind”.

    Problem with wingnuts is they don’t realize they are. They believe in their radical views and you can’t convince them otherwise.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. Tano says:

    “Are you such a partisan hack that you actually think the GOP will try to impeach him?’

    Heh – I think you mistyped your sentence a bit, no? DId you mean to ask me “Do you think they are such partisan hacks that they would try to impeach him”?

    Yes I do think they are partisan hacks. They certainly seem completely devoid of any constructive ideas, and have spent the past two years waging a campaign of absolutist negativism. And they may well be rewarded for that.

    How will they be able to resist the notion that they have a mandate from the people to continue being the same type of politicians that they have been for the past two years? How will it be possible for the saner members of the party to assert control in the face of the excited radicals who will loudly claim that they are the ones who brought the party back into power, and that their attitudes are the ones which must guide the strategy going forward.

    And these next two years will be, at core, a long presidential election campaign, in which there will essentially be a fight for the leadership position in the GOP. How will it be possible to prevent this from being an arms race, in which more and more extreme positions are the currency that promises to win favor with the activist base?

    How will it be possible to prevent the GOP from being driven to the extremes? And sitting out there, as the shining jewel, that not only earns those who embrace it fundamental credibility as an absolutist, but also is a very real manifestation of the underlying goal – to defeat Barack Obama – is impeachment.

    Who will stand up and say no? Anyone on the radical radio shows? Any FoxNews talking head? Any of the presidential candidates? How would they be portrayed to the base if they stand up and say – “no – we should not impeach Obama’? Maybe there will be some brave ones, but they will be selected against.

    Sorry, but I do see the point that Chait is making – how can they not impeach him?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. michael reynolds says:

    Expecting rational behavior, concern for the rule of law, or even simple concern for the welfare of our country from national Republicans is foolish.

    The party is run by and for crazy people, with a few self-deluding holdovers from better days still hanging on, willing apparently to trade common sense, reason, self-respect and even patriotism, for a tax break.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I think House committees will investigate Holder, they will investigate what happened with Sestak, they will investigate everything this President has done which appears to have been outside his authority. I think they will investigate the takeover of GM, the firing of GM’s CEO. They will investigate the coersion of BP to establish a slush fund of $20 billion placed in control of the government, all done without due process. I think they should investigate where the phenominal amount of phone in donations came from during the 2008 election cycle for Obama. If none of these investigated acts reveal anything wihch rises to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors” then it is just a waiting game until this President does something impeachable. I do not think he can help himself. Biden will be tied to whatever Obama has done which will make the Speaker of the House President. Can you say President Boehner?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  17. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Reynolds, the country is currently being run by a bunch of ideolog school teachers who have absolutely no experience with the real world. All they know is theory with zero practical experience. None of them have lived in a socialist country yet they want to take us in a direction which has never proved inself sucessful. The Soviet Union lasted about 70 years. I think the Stars and Stripes have waved a bit longer then the Hammer and Sickle.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. Pete says:

    Michael, your credibility score just plummeted. Such a sweeping accusation about Republicans is certainly too sophomoric for such a brilliant, progressive mind who regularly regales us with deep, well thought out opinions. You almost sound like the republicans you scorn.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. c.red says:

    For those looking to create a false equivalency between the left and the right here, I will point out that Pelosi made her famous “impeachment is off the table” statement in October 2006, before the Democratic Party took control. After that point, anyone calling for impeachment could be, and was, labeled a partisan and was considered pandering to the (large) base that was calling for blood.

    In fairness they have a few more weeks, but no Republican leader, particularly not Mitch McConnell, has made any indication of similar sentiment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Steven Donegal says:

    “At the same time, though, Republican politicians aren’t totally crazy …”

    Evidence, please.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. Wayne says:

    Expecting rational behavior, concern for the rule of law, or even simple concern for the welfare of our country from national Democrats is foolish.

    The party is run by and for crazy people, with a few self-deluding holdovers from better days still hanging on, willing apparently to trade common sense, reason, self-respect and even patriotism, in order to spend a shitload more money and maintain power.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. Wayne says:

    “At the same time, though, Democrat politicians aren’t totally crazy …”

    Evidence, please.

    It is so easy to argue the way liberals do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. mannning says:

    Seems to me this impeachment talk is simply a “floater”, or feed for Obama haters. It provides a vehicle for trotting out Obama’s alleged and real sins for discussion in the context of possible judicial action just before an election. Unless and until something more actionable arises, it is all talk.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. michael reynolds says:

    Pete:

    It’s not a statement I would have made 20 years ago. In fact I’d have scorned any who made it.

    It’s not a statement I’d have made even 10 years ago despite raving GOP lunacy on the Clinton presidency.

    It’s not even a statement I’d have made 5 years ago. I was not a Bush fan, but he was a patriot to the best of his rather limited ability, and I believe a fundamentally decent human being doing his best. (That benefit of the doubt does not extend to Cheney, who should be in prison.)

    But today? The GOP is Fox news hosts, Rush Limbaugh, Birthers, Tea Party hypocrites and race-baiting and gay-bashing goons. It is a sick parody of what was once the Party of Lincoln, and Eisenhower, Dirksen and Reagan and George HW Bush.

    I’ve often supported the GOP, (my first vote was for Nixon,) often disagreed, sometimes furiously. But I never thought they were a cancer on the body politic. Now I do. And like all cancer they’ve subverted the remaining healthy cells, turning good people like Joyner and Mataconis into impotent bystanders to, or enablers of, the destruction of American politics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. anjin-san says:

    Wayne is deploying his parrot gambit. Hide the crackers folks…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. Dave Schuler says:

    Jeepers, I hope not. I’ve seen this movie, I know how it ends, and I’m sure it won’t wear well.

    Chait is right in that there’s always something. That’s a sad commentary on its own.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. steve says:

    I think there will be a motion to impeach. It will not pass. I think you are correct that the more responsible Republicans will join with Democrats to stop it. It will provide good theater for those elected as far right candidates. The economy will not have changed much by 2012 and then they will be the incumbents. They can claim they tried to impeach Obama but it failed. They will run on voting out Obama so that they can carry out their agenda. I also expect a fair number of investigations.

    The real question in my mind is the Dem response when Obama is voted out in 2012 or 2016. Will they retaliate by putting holds on every Republican nominee and filibustering everything? They are kind of wimpy, so I would guess not, but I wouldnt be surprised.

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. Wayne says:

    Anjin at least you caught on quick this time instead of saying how foolish my statements sounded which was a repeat of what you said.

    Steve
    I hope you are not claiming the Republicans are doing that?

    You know the Democrats did put on hold plenty of Bush’s nominees and threaten plenty of filibuster even against a Supreme Court nominee.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. floyd says:

    Only four Presidents have been forcefully removed from office, none by impeachment.
    Not only is there no legal grounds for impeachment, it would be a fools errand to attempt impeachment if there were grounds.
    The work will be to undo the damage done, if they can concentrate on that …2012 will come soon enough.
    If they can not …. the Republic is lost already.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. sam says:

    @floyd

    “Only four Presidents have been forcefully removed from office, none by impeachment.”

    Eh? Do you mean ‘forcibly’? And who and how and why?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. 1greatamerican says:

    Let’s talk facts here. We’ll begin with Clinton…He really didn’t break our laws per se. He was immoral and degraded the position he held as President of the USA. Obama and his Adminastration on the other hand have actually broken laws. Therefore he can and should be impeached. No one in this country is above the law, period.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  32. floyd says:

    Sam;
    Yes I meant Forcibly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. Brummagem Joe says:

    There’s definitely a sizeable faction that would like to try. That surely is indisputable Doug. There’s a bunch of fruit cakes here claiming it’s justified. So is Chait exaggerating? A bit maybe but not by that much. If they get control (which I don’t think will actually happen but I could be wrong and I’m not interested in getting into entirely futile arguments about it) there’s at least a 50/50 chance they’ll try it on.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. Brummagem Joe says:

    steve says:
    Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 15:17
    The economy will not have changed much by 2012 and then they will be the incumbents. They can claim they tried to impeach Obama but it failed. They will run on voting out Obama so that they can carry out their agenda. I also expect a fair number of investigations.

    The real question in my mind is the Dem response when Obama is voted out in 2012 or 2016.”

    If the economy is no better and the Republicans control congress they entirely escape blame? And Obama won’t be running in 2016. It will probably be Hillary.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  35. sam says:

    Ah, you mean assassination, floyd. Funny thought, that. Never occurred to me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. anjin-san says:

    > If they can not …. the Republic is lost already

    It must be nice to be Glenn Beck. Snap your fingers and all of Pavlov’s dogs bark and do tricks on cue…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. anjin-san says:

    > how foolish my statements sounded which was a repeat of what you said.

    Dunno Wayne, you just sound kind of foolish when you talk I guess. Must be rough.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  38. floyd says:

    anjin san;
    Since I don’t watch G.B. I must assume you mean the left’s histrionic reaction to his program.
    They seem to cling to his every word, to get whining fodder! [lol]
    At least that’s where I always hear his name.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  39. steve says:

    Wayne- Sorry, was time pressed. The democrats have put people on hold and filibustered, but if you follow the pattern, it keeps increasing. This Congress set records with filibusters. Will the Dems decide to continue the upwards trend?

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  40. tom p says:

    You know, I have nothing to say. You know why? Yeah, you know why, the truth is beside the point. Meanwhile, I have a single malt waiting for me. F U.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  41. anjin-san says:

    > Since I don’t watch G.B

    So you are parroting the parrots. Got it. You really should know where your material comes from, makes you sound a bit more with it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  42. Rock says:

    Impeachment? Never happen. Why? Impeachment means riots or worse in the streets. Who wants that? Think about the ultimate consequences.Think about it. This President must complete a full term in office. Otherwise … anarchy will reign.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  43. floyd says:

    anjin san;
    Wow! That ought to discredit me for sure! Impressive!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  44. anjin-san says:

    News flash Floyd, your creditability ship sailed long ago. It’s not even a speck on the horizon anymore.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  45. Brummagem Joe says:

    The Republicans are like the Bourbons at times. They forget nothing and learn nothing. This turned into a fiasco for them when they tried it on the infinitely more morally compromised Clinton who grew more popular than ever during the proceedings. It’s the reason why loads of moderate Republicans like me who had traditionally always pulled the lever for the GOP began to question their balance and fitness to govern. Now they want to do it all over again?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  46. An Interested Party says:

    For all the glee of many, including more than a few around here, that Republicans might take one of both houses of Congress next month, how will such an outcome be beneficial to conservatives? The GOP will finally have ownership of governing too, and won’t be able to just say “no” anymore, so what will Republicans be left to do? Hold hearings about imagined crimes? Yes, that will certainly help the conservative cause…some people should be very wary about what they wish for, as it may not have the desired result they have in mind…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0