Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the House Budget Committee chairman. (Associated Press)

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) just gave the response to the impeachment question that GOP leaders probably should have been giving for days.

Asked at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast about the chatter, Ryan offered this:

I see this as sort of a ridiculous gambit by the president and his political team to try and change the narrative, raise money, and turn out their base for an upcoming election that they feel is not going to go their way… [The Republicans’ differences with the White House do] not rise to the high crime and misdemeanor level.

Ignore the first part; that's just him echoing the talking point that other top Republicans have used. The second part is the operative part. It's where he offers a pretty novel thought: that Obama has not committed an impeachable offense.

Here's what The Post's Karen Tumulty had to say:

I agree. As The Fix has written before, many Americans don't seem to be too aware of precisely what is required for a president to be impeached. Such a president must have committed "high crimes and misdemeanors" to qualify.

We are sure that there are people in today's Republican Party who believe in their heart of hearts that Obama is guilty of that and more. But we are also sure that there are people who say Obama should be impeached simply because they disagree with them and/or he's a bad president.

This is an exceedingly difficult issue for GOP leaders to deal with — especially since a recent CNN/Opinion Research poll showed that 57 percent of Republicans are pro-impeachment. Telling more than half your base that it's wrong isn't exactly something any politician wants to do.

But it's getting to the point where Republican leaders need to do a little more to nip this thing in the bud before it becomes bigger than they can handle. And what better way than to make an argument using the very thing that the tea party loves to cite: the Constitution.

These leaders could, as Ryan does, acknowledge concerns about what Obama is doing while also noting that "high crimes and misdemeanors" is generally thought to be a very high threshold.

(There is some disagreement on this, but it is generally assumed that you really need to catch the guy with his hand in the cookie jar. President Clinton, for example, very clearly lied to the American people about his affair, and there still wasn't much public support for impeachment.)

We're sure Ryan will get some guff from the conservative wing of the party for underselling Obama's sins. Such an answer is risky in today's Republican Party, in which compromise is an increasingly dirty word and merely working with Democrats and/or Obama can earn you a primary challenge.

But if Ryan pays a price, he's taking one for the team — by attempting to put a stop to a story line that risks compromising what should be a very good election for Republicans.