© Josh Sager – July 2014
During the last few weeks, the media has reported several stories that could signal the start of a Congressional attempt to impeach President Obama. Right wing activists, media figures and leaders have started edging around the subject of impeachment, while several sitting GOP politicians (including the new House Majority Leader) have voiced their support for impeachment hearings.
Additionally, White House spokesperson Dan Pheiffer, has disclosed to the press that he and the Obama administration not only expect to face impeachment proceedings, but have already begun preparing for that fight.
The justifications for impeachment given by Republicans are rarely coherent and often include some vague assertion that Obama has become an imperial president who abuses executive orders to subvert democracy. Of the various specific orders that the GOP has focused upon, Obama’s delay of certain portions of ObamaCare and his use of executive orders to prioritize deportations away from DREAM-eligible undocumented residents are likely the most common. That said, in some cases, GOP politicians have even signaled their support for impeachment, despite the fact that they have no idea what the legal justification would be.
Regardless of whether the GOP actually decides to start impeachment proceedings, the fact remains that a majority of GOP voters believe that impeachment is warranted. According to a recent study by YouGov, 89% of Republicans believe that Obama has overstepped his Constitutional authority and 68% would support impeaching the president for this supposed overreach.
Put simply, the GOP is heading towards yet another manufactured disaster that has the potential to drag the rest of the country into a very long and irritating mess. Currently, the Congress is paralyzed and cannot get anything done (ex. they still haven’t passed anything to fix the VA backlog and it appears that the Senate bipartisan bill on the subject is now dead), but an attempt to impeach Obama will make this gridlock even worse.
The Politics of Impeachment
Impeaching Obama is a massive political stunt that would act as a fundraising boon and partisan rallying point on both sides of the political aisle.
The extreme right wing GOP has ridden the demonization of ObamaCare for years and, now that the law is implemented and working, they need another goal to stir up the base. Dangling the idea of impeaching Obama (for anything) over the heads of the right wing base is a great way to entice them to open their wallets to the massive fundraising machine that has formed on the political right. Anybody who knows anything about civics realizes that impeachment is futile given the Democrats’ control over the Senate, but the GOP base is ignorant enough to think that their small donation will help with the effort.
In addition to the fundraising boost, right wing voters are mobilized by the idea of impeachment and it is very possible that the right wing hopes that an impeachment fight could drive voters to the polls in 2014.
Finally, the Republicans have based their recent political platform on a political ideology that assumes Obama to be an evil tyrant who seeks to override democracy and impose his radical leftist views on the country. They have a massive intellectual investment in this narrative and impeachment is the logical conclusion of their strawman argument.
Democrats love the idea of the GOP trying to impeach Obama and there is a very high likelihood that they will try to goad the right into overreaching—this is likely why the White House leaked their predictions that impeachment is imminent. Just as Republicans hope that impeachment will help them fundraise and mobilize, the Democrats predict that they will receive similar benefits. If the GOP tries to impeach Obama, it will be a powerful boost for the Democrats in 2014, and could be the factor that allows them to combat the midterm losses that have been predicted for them.
Here is an example of a DNC ad using this tactic.
The Democrats remember what happened to the Republicans when they impeached Clinton—their approval ratings tanked while Clinton’s actually improved—and are likely hoping for a repeat performance. There is simply nothing better for the Democrats than the GOP getting up every day and harping on how Obama has been so merciful to vulnerable immigrant children and reminding the country that the GOP would just love to crush said kids and kick them out of the country—the GOP has already lost much of the Hispanic vote, and this could easily be the death blow that loses them Hispanics for a generation.
The Boehner Lawsuit as a Release Valve
The Republican leadership understands that their extremist colleagues wish to impeach Obama, but tend to understand that the risks of impeachment far outweigh the gains—both sides would gain a mobilization and fundraising boost, but the likely PR loss for the Republicans would put them at a disadvantage. As such, Boehner has announced that he will be suing the president (representing the first such suit in the history of the nation) for his use of executive orders, creating a release valve for the anger of the right wing.
In effect, the GOP is in full infantile tantrum mode, and Boehner is trying to give them a pacifier before they can cause a real mess. By distracting them with the idea of a lawsuit, Boehner can redirect their focus away from a damaging impeachment attempt and towards a simply futile legal publicity stunt.
I don’t think that the lawsuit stunt of Boehner’s will be successful, as he will likely be unable to prove standing in court, and his case will be quickly dispatched. Obama has used fewer executive orders than any other modern president and his orders have largely been within his authority as the executive.
It is certainly true that the executive order that postponed the small business mandate could be seen as an overreach of executive power, but it is in no way unique (Bush did several such postponements during the implementation of Medicare Part D), nor is it clear cut that his action harmed anybody. Without demonstration of harm, Boehner will be laughed out of court, and his ploy will fail, enticing the GOP extremists to push impeachment—as Boehner has regularly let himself be led around by his extremist colleagues, this will almost certainly translate to the start of impeachment proceedings within the year.
There is a reasonable likelihood that the impeachment rumors are simply political posturing by both parties but these rumors are very important because they indicate a persistent strain of thought that has infected the GOP—they have lost the desire to govern and have focused their efforts solely upon destroying Obama and anything that he supports.
The GOP cannot govern, so it has become a roadblock for legislation that forces Obama to take executive orders to mitigate the damage that they cause—they refuse to act on immigration, so Obama must use every executive order within his authority to take the place of legislation. Once Obama issues these orders, the GOP uses them as a further excuse to obstruct and demonize, regardless of the facts that they forced him to act and that his orders are well under his authority.
If nothing changes, Washington will continue to be broken for years to come and the GOP will sit in its gerrymandered districts while making life difficult for a vast majority of the country (remember, the Democrats got substantially more votes than the GOP in House races, but received a weak minority of the seats)