While talk of impeaching Obama makes some in GOP uneasy, Democrats see an opportunity


Joe Madison talks with callers on his morning talk radio show “The Black Eagle” on Sirus XM. (Jabin Botsford/For The Washington Post)

Over the weekend there was another high-profile Republican call for the impeachment of President Obama.

“There’s only one remedy for a president who commits high crimes and misdemeanors, and it’s impeachment,” said former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin. “It’s the i-word. You don’t need some fancy law degree hanging on your wall there to know laws are not being enforced today. Illegal immigrants all over the world also know that.” The audience at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver applauded.

While the uptick in talk of impeachment is making many in the GOP uneasy, some Democrats see a chance to motivate parts of their base coalition that are notoriously disengaged from politics during non-presidential-election years and don’t show up at the polls.

Democrats say the impeachment chatter, plus a recent lawsuit filed against Obama by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), have already proved a major fundraising boon for the party.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has raised $3.7 million from 200,000 online donations since Boehner announced his lawsuit on June 25. And before her weekend remarks in Denver, Palin penned an op-ed on Breitbart.com on July 8, in which she declared: “The many impeachable offenses of Barack Obama can no longer be ignored. If after all this he’s not impeachable, then no one is.”

Sarah Palin said over the weekend that given all of President Obama's transgressions, it's time to impeach him. She called it "the I-word." (YouTube)

The DCCC sent two fundraising e-mails in the next 24 hours and raised $500,000 in the next four days.

“Republicans are drastically overreaching with their lawsuit and impeachment talk, and the result has been a massive surge of enthusiasm from our grass-roots supporters,” said the DCCC chairman, Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.). “A stark contrast has developed between Republicans’ focus on suing or impeaching the president and Democrats’ focus on strengthening the economy for the middle class.”

The White House is clearly aware of the power of the impeachment rhetoric, and the president has mocked the idea in recent speeches.

“You hear some of them — ‘Sue him,’ ‘Impeach him.’ Really? Really? For what?” Obama said in Austin. “You’re going to sue me for doing my job? Okay.”

On Monday, Organizing for America sent a letter to supporters urging them to send a message to Boehner by writing him “to tell him to stop wasting our time.”

Joe Madison, known as the Black Eagle on his popular satellite-radio show of the same name, has been asserting for months that if Republicans take control of the Senate majority, they will use their power to impeach Obama. Madison sees that as an effort to permanently damage the legacy of the nation’s first black president. Mostly though, he said, his arguments had been met with skepticism.

“People found it unbelievable and would say, ‘No, they wouldn’t do that,’ or they would ask me what they would impeach him on,” Madison said in a telephone interview.

But that has changed in recent weeks.

It’s now part of the political conversation and remember, it wasn’t,” Madison said. “People are starting to see the light.”

Madison is an icon in black radio, and the White House has often turned to his daily current affairs show when they wanted to reach his audience, estimated to be in the millions, on everything from health care to Obama’s trip to Africa.

Madison, who has a close relationship with the Obamas and members of the administration, has all along viewed the impeachment debate as a powerful motivating tool for black voters, among the most loyal Democrats but who have not been a reliable force in recent midterm elections.

This year, some of the most contested congressional races are in states such as Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and Michigan, all of which have sizable black populations that could decide which party controls the Senate. The calculus among some Democrats is that an Obama presidency threatened by the prospect of impeachment would bring black voters to the polls in droves.

“We have already had a rehearsal for this,” said David Bositis, who has studied black voting patterns for decades. “There is a very strong case to be made that you would see black voters turning out to respond to any attempts to impeach Obama. . . . If you get people angry and fearful, they can be motivated.”

Another possible parallel is 2012 when blacks showed up in record numbers, which showed what some political observers said was linked to Republican efforts to tighten voter-identification laws in several states. Democrats portrayed those campaigns as an effort to disenfranchise black voters and deny Obama a reelection.

“Impeachment talks fit the same type of frame and narrative to get black people to vote again. The idea is ‘We can’t let Obama go down like that,’ ” said Andra Gillespie, a professor of political science at Emory University who is working on a book about Obama and race. “It’s a slightly harder case to make to voters, and voters would have to be educated about the connection.”

Bositis said that given the long history of distrust between black voters and the conservative GOP, it would not be difficult for Democrats to link the idea of impeachment to turnout in the midterms.

On one of Madison’s “Black Eagle” shows, the anger and intensity from the audience confirmed that the impeachment argument is already a powerful one.

Lenny from New York: “This impeachment is going to backfire and make it easier for Hillary to run. This is complete foolishness.”

Darrell from Mississippi: “This thing with the Republicans is just stupid and desperate. It’s setting a dangerous precedent.”

Eve in Louisiana: “Nothing they have done has worked, so why not try impeachment? They don’t have anything left. Let them try impeachment because it’s going to blow up in their face just like anything else.”

GOP leaders understand some of the political risks. Boehner, even as he pursues his lawsuit against the president, has said that he thinks impeachment is not a wise course.

Former vice president Richard B. Cheney, one of Obama’s fiercest critics, has said he disagrees with Palin’s impeachment crusade.

Others simply see it as a waste of time.

“I voted to impeach President Clinton,” said Rep. Joe Barton, (R-Tex.). “Having gone through the impeachment process with President Clinton, as a practical matter, it wouldn’t be possible [to impeach Obama]. At this point in time, I don’t think it would be a good use of the Congress’s remaining time.”

But the Clinton impeachment offers another lesson — this one for Democrats.

Republicans, who had opened up a broad impeachment inquiry before Election Day in November 1998, faced a backlash at the hands of black voters, particularly in the South.

Democrats picked up five seats in the House and didn’t lose any ground in the Senate. For Clinton, those midterm gains were a rarity for a second-term president.

In North Carolina, where Sen. Kay Hagan (D) is in a tight race, black voters proved critical in 1998, making up 20 percent of the vote. As well in Georgia, where Michelle Nunn is on the ballot, blacks were almost 30 percent of the voters in 1998, up from 19 percent in the 1994 midterm.

“Every political analyst that has really looked at this has said that nothing would fire up the base of the Democrats more than an impeachment action,” Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) said last week during the weekly Conversations With Conservatives panel discussion held by the Heritage Foundation. “We need to talk about a lot of other things other than impeachment at this point.”

Democratic operatives point to a new DCCC poll conducted earlier this month in 10 battleground districts that found that 77 percent of all voters, 88 percent of Latino voters and 77 percent of African American voters say they are more likely to vote because of Boehner’s lawsuit against Obama.

“Republican Senate candidates who legitimize impeachment talk not only motivate donors, but they reinforce just how out of touch they are and how much they’re focused on partisan political battles instead of helping their states,” said Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Republicans, however, caution that Democrats could overplay their hand and end up highlighting what they see as one of Obama’s big vulnerabilities going into November.

“If Democrats think the president’s blatant disregard for the Constitution is a reason to celebrate, they’re even more out of touch than we thought,” said Andrea Bozek communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Democrats in tough contests, where attracting white independents is as important as getting the Obama coalition to show up, are unlikely to run on an ­anti-impeachment platform, the way some Democrats did in 1998, but chatter away from the campaign trail could still help them.

“Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan don’t have to say anything,” Bositis said of the senators from Louisiana and North Carolina. “It will be the talk among friends and family in churches, civic organizations, on black radio and on Twitter. Republicans can’t cut that off.”

Wesley Lowery covers Capitol Hill for The Fix and Post Politics.
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