political theater

Impeachment Mania Is Sweeping Both Parties

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: U.S. President Barack Obama reacts to a joke told by comedian Conan O'Brien during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The dinner is an annual event attended by journalists, politicians and celebrities. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)
Asking to be impeached? Photo: Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images

This week, House Republicans are moving forward with their plan to sue President Obama for executive overreach — specifically, the White House’s delaying of the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act. It’s a silly piece of political performance art designed to amp up the Republican base. But something much sillier has rapidly subsumed it — a political meme that is rallying conservatives and liberals alike, and that an idle media has amplified with gusto. Welcome to impeachment mania.

It all started in early July, when conservative thought-leader-without-assignment Sarah Palin proposed that Republicans impeach Barack Obama for his imperial style of leadership.

It’s time to impeach; and on behalf of American workers and legal immigrants of all backgrounds, we should vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment. The many impeachable offenses of Barack Obama can no longer be ignored. If after all this he’s not impeachable, then no one is.

It’s the sort of idle thought that conservatives have expressed from time to time to signal disapproval with Obama’s policies. The grassroots right applauded. Elected Republicans generally ignored the idea, instead forging ahead with their plan to sue Obama. But Democrats started picking up on all the impeachment chatter — impeachment chatter that has in the past given them a fund-raising boost and allowed them to paint Republicans as unhinged.

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer brought impeachment up at a meeting with journalists on Friday.

Speaker Boehner, by going down the path of this lawsuit, opened the door to Republicans pursuing impeachment at some point in the future. 

And White House spokesperson Josh Earnest answered questions about it from a skeptical media that same day.

Jim Acosta of CNN: This is my question. There have been a lot of fundraising announcements within the Democratic Party with the word “impeachment” in it. This sounds like a fundraising ploy, a political ploy, not a real thing. You don’t really think the president is going to be impeached, do you? 

Earnest: Well, Jim, I think that there are some Republicans, including some Republicans who are running for office, hoping that they can get into office so that they can impeach the president. That is apparently a view that they hold because that’s one they have repeatedly expressed publicly. 

Many elected Republicans, for their part, kept on talking about the lawsuit and their disappointment with Obama. Here’s Boehner in an opinion piece this weekend.

On the advice of legal experts, the House action will focus on his decision to extend — twice — the deadline to institute the employer mandate in his health care law. We believe this targeted lawsuit offers the best chance of success. Given the groundbreaking nature of this legal action, we want to assert our clearest constitutional position. The fact we agree with a change that should have been made in law makes this case clearer to the court.

But Steve Scalise, a high-ranking House Republican, declined to take impeachment off the table during a television interview over the weekend, giving the whole meme just enough oxygen to keep going.

Chris Wallace of Fox News: Will you consider impeaching the president?

Scalise: 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 the laws…

Wallace: If he overreaches again on executive action to defer more deportations, what will the House do?

Scalise: We made it clear we’re going to put options on the table to allow the House take legal action against the president when he overreaches his authority… We’re going to continue to be a check and a balance against this administration. 

Wallace: But impeachment is off the table?

Scalise: The White House wants to talk about impeachment and ironically they’re going out and trying to fundraise off that, too.

Fund-raise did the Democrats ever. The haul? — $2.1 million, just over this past weekend.

That has left Republicans angry and more insistent on changing the narrative: It’s Democrats who want to talk about impeachment, not Republicans. Here’s Glenn Beck on the matter.

The birther thing is over, the black thing is over… Do you think anyone in Washington in the G.O.P. is serious about impeachment? Do you think one person? Have you spoken to one person? Not one. So who wants it? The president does. Because then he’ll be able to say, “I demand justice.”

The search continues for a credible Republican to take over as figurehead of the Impeach Obama movement. Republicans continue to swat the idea down.

There’s an angle for them too, though: They get to talk about Obama’s impeachable offenses, and about the White House’s venality and cynicism, the kind of venality and cynicism that has shut down all reasonable conversation in Washington. Here’s Boehner again today.

It’s all a scam started by Democrats at the White House … This whole talk about impeachment is coming from the president’s own staff and coming from Democrats on Capitol Hill. Why? Because they’re trying to rally their own people to give money and show up in this year’s elections.

There you have it: impeachment mania, a fund-raising, finger-pointing bit of piffle. It excites the conservative base. It excites the liberal base. It excites the media. And it makes John Boehner a grumpy man.

Impeachment Mania Is Sweeping Both Parties