For Democrats to not take the impeachment threat seriously would be unwise and profoundly foolish. The question from Chris Wallace of Fox News to incoming House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) on Sunday was really quite simple. If President Obama took executive action to solve the immigration crisis on the southern border would “you consider impeaching the president?” Now, in the old days, before the tea party swarmed the Capitol with folks who neither know nor have the temperament for governing, when a member of the Democratic Party leadership was asked the impeachment question with regard to President George W. Bush, the answer was clear and definitive. “I have said it before and I will say it again: Impeachment is off the table,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the incoming speaker of the House, said at a news conference the day after Democrats took back control of the chamber in 2006. Democrats were champing at the bit to impeach Bush over the Iraq War, but Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership put the kibosh on that right quick. Not today’s Republican leadership.
WALLACE: . . . You’re already suing the president for overreach. The question I have is, if he does this, if he takes executive action [to defer deportation for millions of immigrants], which I know you all believe is illegal, will you do nothing, will you do something such as cut off funding for the administration, will you consider impeaching the president?SCALISE: You know, this might be the first White House in history that’s trying to start the narrative of impeaching their own president. Ultimately, what we want to do is see the president follow his own laws. But the president took an oath to faithfully execute the laws of this land and he’s not. In fact, the Supreme Court unanimously more than 12 times, unanimously said the president overreached and actually did things he doesn’t have the legal authority to do.(CROSSTALK)WALLACE: Again, on executive action to defer more deportations, what will the House doSCALISE: We’ve made it clear. We’re going to put options on the table to allow — to allow the House to take legal action against the president when he overreaches his authority. Others have already done that. Cases are going to the Supreme Court. Like I said, more than a dozen times the Supreme Court unanimously — I’m not talking about a 5-4 decision — 9-0, unanimously said the president overreached. So, we’re going to continue to be a check and a balance against this administration.WALLACE: But impeachment is off the table?SCALISE: Well, the White House wants to talk about impeachment, and, ironically, they’re going out and trying to fundraise off that, too.
And Boehner wonders why impeachment talk is all the rage. A “No, don’t be ridiculous. We’re not going to impeach the president. Period!” from Scalise on Sunday or from Boehner today would have put an end to the chatter. But no. So the Democrats are doing their best with it in an off-year election that they know will not be kind to them, historically speaking.
Speaking at a press briefing this morning with reporters on their efforts to reach African American voters, Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, didn’t hold back. “[W]hen Republicans talk about suing the president and when they lay the groundwork for impeachment, they motivate our base to vote in November,” he said. “There is nothing more motivating with our base than a House Republican leadership that is fixed on the destruction of this president’s agenda and will go so far as to impeach him to deny him success.”
Some think that Boehner’s lawsuit against the president is some sort of crafty maneuver to punish Obama for myriad offenses without getting into the political and historical messiness of impeachment. But Israel touched on the reason why I believe impeachment is coming. Republicans won’t be able to help themselves.
Fifty-seven percent of Republicans in a recent poll support impeachment of the president of the United States. So when Republicans say, “No, we don’t really mean it,” they mean it. These same Republicans before the shutdown said, “No, we’re not going to shut down the government.” And they couldn’t help themselves. Now, they say, “We’re not actually going to impeach the president.” They won’t be able to help themselves. The reason that Steve Scalise on Sunday refused to rule out impeachment was a) he knows that 57 percent of his base wants impeachment, and b) he knows that the majority of his caucus in a leadership election wants to impeach the president. So they are going to be fueled by this lawsuit-impeachment fervor, and we’re going to continue to talk about issues that matter to voters across the country.
That Democrats are using all this impeachment talk to raise money for their campaigns shouldn’t come as a surprise. Nor should the increased donations that follow. But don’t let their efforts or the side-eye-worthy accusations of playing politics from Republicans distract from the seriousness of the chatter or the Democratic endeavor. Talking about impeaching a president is not a “scam.” It’s a big deal. And a surefire way to stop it is for Boehner to repeat after Pelosi: “Impeachment is off the table.”
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj