GOP Establishment Pushes Back Against Calls For Impeachment

Led by Speaker John Boehner, Republican leaders are trying to placate calls for impeachment.

Elephants Fighting

Sarah Palin’s endorsement of impeaching President Obama of isn’t going over very well with other Republicans.

On Wednesday, for example, House Speaker John Boehner dismissed the idea, quickly, curtly, and with little subtlety as to what he actually thinks of the former Governor of Alaska:

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) disagrees with Republicans calling for the impeachment of President Obama.

Former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Tuesday joined a growing chorus of Republicans calling for the impeachment of Obama, writing in an op-ed that the influx of young illegal immigrants over the southern border “is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, ‘no mas.’ ”

“I disagree,” Boehner said when asked by reporters Wednesday morning. When a reporter pointed out that some House Republicans also are calling for impeachment, Boehner said again: “I disagree.”

Here’s the video:

The man who put Palin on the national stage also disagrees with her:

On Fox Business Network on Thursday, her running mate in the 2008 presidential election, Sen. John McCain disagreed.

“Well, I don’t agree and I remember going through an impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton,” McCain said. “There are not the votes here in the United States Senate to impeach the president of the United States and I think that we should focus our attention on winning elections. We win this election and we regain control of the United States Senate we can be far more effective than an effort to impeach the president, which has no chance of succeeding.”

The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, characterized the entire idea of impeachment as something of a delusion:

On Wednesday House Speaker John Boehner said “I disagree” with Mrs. Palin, though as usual without elaboration. What he might add is that the Constitution says a President can be impeached for “Treason, Bribery or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Bill Clinton lied under oath and Richard Nixon obstructed justice. While Mr. Obama’s abuses of executive power are serious, they don’t rise to that level.

Impeachment is also inherently a political process that at the current moment would backfire on Republicans. Mr. Obama is unpopular, but that is due mainly to the failure of his policies. Focusing on impeachment lets Democrats off the hook on those progressive failures and plays into their claim that GOP opposition to Mr. Obama is personal. Then there is the answer to nobody’s question—President Biden? Impeachment fails to address any of the problems that Republicans are upset about.

If conservatives really want to address those problems, they should elect a Republican Senate majority. A GOP Senate could stop the President’s worst appointees, including judicial nominees. It could use budget reconciliation to pass policy reforms on ObamaCare, energy and other issues that the President would pay a political price for vetoing. And a GOP Senate could add its oversight power to dig into government abuses like the IRS political targeting.

Republicans aiming to rebuild a governing majority should be making a systematic case about the failures of Democratic governance that include slow growth and stagnant incomes, fewer health-care choices and higher costs, growing world disorder, and more. Trying to impeach Mr. Obama now is firing at the wrong target at the wrong time with the wrong ammunition.

Mainstream Republicans and conservatives rejecting the idea of impeachment isn’t entirely surprising, of course. As I’ve noted when writing about this issue in the past, many of these people, including the likes of Boehner and McCain, were around the last time that the GOP tried the impeachment strategy and they remember how it ended. Clinton was impeached, of course, be he was ultimately acquitted in a Republican controlled Senate because, as anyone could have seen beforehand, there were not 67 votes to convict him of any of the charges against him. In the end, there were 45 votes to convict on the perjury charge and 50 to convict on obstruction of justice, and all of the guilty votes on each of the charges came from Republican Senators. Regardless of who wins control of the Senate in November, and there’s no chance that there’d be any action on an issue like this before then, the outcome would be basically the same, with the added benefit of all business in Congress grinding to a halt during the month or two (or three) it took the process to play out. In the end, it’s likely that the Republican Party would come out of the entire thing looking utterly ridiculous, just as it heads into a Presidential election. That’s why the leadership and mainstream conservatives are pushing back against the idea, if not ignoring it entirely.

Among the Tea Party and the hardcore GOP base, though, it seems as though impeachment is well on the way to becoming yet another one of those articles of faith, right along with absolute belief in the fact that Fast & Furious, Benghazi, and the IRS targeting story are the worst Presidential scandals in American history. In fact, notwithstanding the fact that the leadership opposes impeachment and knows that it would be a political disaster, it remains to be seen whether this impeachment talk remains something confined to the fringe of the GOP and the conservative or if it starts to become a more mainstream idea to the point where the leadership in Congress finds itself forced to “do something” in response to pressure from the base.  That pressure could increase if the GOP captures the Senate in November and the base of the party finds itself energized in the manner it was after the 2010 midterms. It could also become an issue if and when the lawsuit that the House of Representatives intends to file against the President ends up going nowhere, as I fully expect that it will. Bill Scher, in fact, argues that Boehner has painted himself into a corner and arguably created the very conditions that could force his hand on this issue:

The June announcement of the lawsuit now looks like an unforced error. But it was February when Boehner inadvertently got the impeachment ball rolling.

At the time, Boehner had just failed to impress his caucus with a plan to legalize the 11 million undocumented immigrants now living in the United States. Caught between his desire to reach out to Latinos and his commitment to maintaining party unity, Boehner sought to shift blame for the stalemate to the president, declaring, “There’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws. And it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”

What might have seemed to Boehner as a clever bit of misdirection also validated an incendiary charge that would easily combust into an allegation of law-breaking.

Making the charge even more reckless was Boehner’s obvious insincerity. In April, he deliberately sabotaged his earlier message at his hometown Rotary Club, saying of his Republican caucus on immigration reform, “Here’s the attitude. Ohhhh. Don’t make me do this. Ohhhh. This is too hard.” He went on: “We get elected to solve problems and it’s remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don’t want to.” But he proved unwilling to seriously lean on his own members. A few days later, he scurried back to questioning Obama’s fealty to the law, saying, “the biggest impediment we have to immigration reform is that the American people don’t trust the president to enforce or implement the law that we may or may not pass.”


Boehner might have been aiming for just enough to keep the party from splintering before the primary elections, but instead he established the predicate for impeachment, jeopardizing Republican chances to win complete control of Congress in November.

If you believe the president isn’t following the law, impeachment is the logical next step. However, impeachment is completely illogical if you believe “we get elected to solve problems” and not play political games. Since Boehner knew he would never take such a radical step, he should never have embraced the rationale for that step.

 Yet he did, and in doing so, painted himself into a corner

When the midterms are over, and the House lawsuit end up languishing in the Federal Courts in D.C. only to be eventually dismissed in all likelihood, Boehner may find that his plan to placate and outwit the radical wing of his own party has backfired on him. At that point, he may find himself faced with the choice of either doing the utterly irrational or sacrificing his own position to the purity-or-nothing of the Tea Party. Neither possibility bodes well for the GOP’s future political fortunes.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. DrDaveT says:

    And a GOP Senate could add its oversight power to dig into government abuses like the IRS political targeting.

    Awesome, WSJ — then we could hunt witches ambidextrously!

  2. C. Clavin says:

    Boehner’s decision to file suit over Obamacare tells you everything you need to know about what they have over Obama; Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Bubkis.
    Apparently the Presidents unlimited tyrannical imperialistic lawlessness is actually limited to one instance of scheduling discretion.
    So of course the Republican establishment is pushing back on the Tea Baggers…they were useful idiots who have now outlived their usefulness.

  3. grumpy realist says:

    That’s the trouble with indulging the lunatics–they take over.

    It looks like the only thing that Buckley managed to do when he chased the Birchers out and confined them in the cellar was hold off the deluge, since his successors were idiotic enough to open the trapdoor again. And they’re Not Going To Go Away this time….(cue spooky music.)

  4. Todd says:

    The absolute best thing that could happen to the Republican party, and the country, is if the the “Tea people” really do decide to break off and form their own party at some point in the future.

    Surely this is wishful thinking on my part.

    But if they can have unrealistic dreams of impeachment, then surely I am entitled to unrealistic dreams of these radicals being marginalized back to the fringes where they belong, ironically by their own delusions of grandeur.

  5. Tillman says:

    Good to see they’re trying to clamp down on the crazy now, but I have to agree with Scher on painting themselves into a corner. You can only pretend the president is tyrannical for so long before this sort of thing gets rolling.

    They helped gin it all up, what with McConnell declaring the primary goal was making Obama a one-term president.

  6. James Pearce says:

    Mr. Obama is unpopular, but that is due mainly to the failure of his policies. Focusing on impeachment lets Democrats off the hook on those progressive failures and plays into their claim that GOP opposition to Mr. Obama is personal.

    Wow…..that’s kind of out of touch, I’d say.

    And this is what the “reasonable” right is saying? Double wow.

  7. grumpy realist says:

    Totally OT, but I just have to post this link

    Remember Nixon’s “I am not a crook”? Ah well, as the man says, history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.

  8. gVOR08 says:

    @James Pearce: It’s the WSJ. What did you expect?

  9. gVOR08 says:

    My sympathy for Boehner and the establishment is severely limited by the extent to which they’ve cultivated and stoked their fringe. The TP did not fall out of the sky on them. They need crazy people. Who else would vote for them?

    Also remember that the TP has mostly brought us failed attempts to shut down the government, failed attempts to repeal Obamacare, and a lot of entertainment. The Republican establishment brought us the Reagan recession, the Bush recession, and the other Bush recession. The Republican establishment brought us lax financial regulation. The Republican establishment bought us Bush’s Iraq war, and the other Bush’s Iraq war and totally mismanaged both W’s Iraq war and the war in Afghanistan. The Republican establishment brought us W’s unfunded Medicare part D. The Republican establishment decided not to raise taxes for two foreign wars.

  10. James Pearce says:


    It’s the WSJ. What did you expect?

    Honestly? I expected a rightish tilt that is still tethered to reality.

    What I got was basically rightwing propaganda for those in a bubble. This is where it lost me:

    “Focusing on impeachment lets Democrats off the hook”

    No, focusing on impeachment is, by itself, an unwise move. We don’t need to come up with some totally made-up reason why it would be undesirable. We have plenty of real ones.

    It’s like saying “Becoming addicted to heroin disappoints your grandma.” Yes, it does, but that’s not why getting addicted to heroin is a bad idea.

  11. grumpy realist says:

    @James Pearce: In my experience the editorial page of the WSJ has always been completely unmoored from reality.

  12. Tony W says:

    The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, characterized the entire idea of impeachment as something of a delusion:

    Since 2008 I have spent the years longing for a loyal opposition – recognizing that the President has valid points, but disagreeing and bringing up their own valid points. I’ve now given up on that idea – now I just want them to shut up long enough that they don’t do too much damage while the grown ups are trying to run the country.

  13. Terrye C says:

    I don’t think Boehner will have forced his hand…even if the lawsuit is dismissed. After all, impeachment has a different standard. He is not “embracing the rationale” for that step…if he were then why didn’t the Democrats impeach Bush?…They not only thought he did not follow the law, they treated him like a war criminal.

  14. CSK says:

    Look, anything that Sarah Palin says, does, or “writes” (I put the latter word in quotes because in all probability someone else does the writing for her) is directed toward one end–the glorification and enrichment of Sarah Palin. I assume McCain realizes this now, if he hasn’t already. The woman doesn’t care what damage she does, as long as she gets attention and lines her pockets.

  15. Eric Florack says:

    Yeah, the establishment would do that.
    Afraid to stand up and be counted.

  16. mantis says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Afraid to stand up and be counted.

    As idiots.

  17. jukeboxgrad says:


    It looks like the only thing that Buckley managed to do when he chased the Birchers out and confined them in the cellar was hold off the deluge, since his successors were idiotic enough to open the trapdoor again.

    According to his son, William F. Buckley said this:

    I’ve spent my entire lifetime separating the Right from the kooks

    Buckley is dead, and he lost that battle. The GOP has been assimilated by the kooks.

    Also relevant: “Fred Koch, founder of Koch Industries, was one of the founding members” (of the John Birch Society) and his sons (and others like them) are now the main backers of the GOP and the tea party.

  18. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @James Pearce: @grumpy realist: Good point, GR; remember, this is the WSJ that just a few days ago featured an Op-Ed piece by that noted business personage, Taylor Swift. Moored to reality is a thing of the distant past.

  19. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Tony W: When I was in the produce business many years ago, we had a saying: “It’s tough to sell off of an empty wagon.” In much the same way, it’s difficult to come up with your “own valid arguments” from an empty playbook. It’s also difficult to be a “loyal opposition” when your only loyalty is to reelection.

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Terrye C:

    they treated him like a war criminal.

    Well, in the Dems defense, torture is a war crime. Jus’ sayin’…

  21. al-Ameda says:

    You have to like reasonable “establishment” types like McCain, all John was saying was, “we don’t have the votes right now,” he wasn’t denouncing the impeachment talk at all. Once the 2014 mid-term elections are squared away “establishment” types like McCain will probably have ” thoughtfully reconsidered” their fake qualified opposition to impeachment. Today’s Republican Party is, flat out, the most toxic political association in America today.

  22. bill says:

    lot’s of hype, little substance. a few fringe types bellowing for impeachment sure got a lot of press, yet most of us know they’re “not respected”.

  23. jukeboxgrad says:

    a few fringe types bellowing for impeachment

    The GOP thought Palin was qualified to be president, which means it makes sense to call her “fringe” only if you accept that the GOP itself is “fringe.”

    And you have essentially the same problem with Rush, who has also called for impeachment. Rush was described by Saint Ronnie himself as “the Number One voice for conservatism.”

  24. …along with absolute belief in the fact that Fast & Furious, Benghazi, and the IRS targeting story are the worst Presidential scandals in American history…

    Don’t forget Solyndra! Where an energy company got grant money and then went bankrupt or something because that clearly never happened before in human history.

  25. socraticsilence says:

    I kind of take issue with the “Obama is unpopular due to policy failure”– Domestically, the ACA is starting to look pretty damn successful and economically we’re by a lot of metrics at the best point we’ve been in more than a decade– he’s in bad shape because people are blaming him for stuff outside of his control where any action he takes will be unpopular (Foreign Policy), because some issues are too complex to properly explain to people in the current media climate (why the mandate is a necessary part of any Health Care Reform plan that also eliminate pre-existing conditions exclusions for example), and because the financial sector isn’t as laudatory of Obama despite the Stock Market being at record highs because he had the audacity to lightly slap them on the wrist and reintroduce some regulatory oversight.

  26. Tony W says:


    Domestically, the ACA is starting to look pretty damn successful and economically we’re by a lot of metrics at the best point we’ve been in more than a decade

    The ACA is going to enable me to retire 10 years early. That’s bad for big business, but great for me.