Monday, May 13, 2013

Spurious Impeachment? Probably Not

I've been writing about possible impeachment for a long time, and I said back in 2009 that "If Republicans take back the House, the odds are very good that they will impeach Barack Obama. "

Here's the thing, though. For all the impeachment talk -- and it's been a constant beginning just a few months into Obama's first term -- the House hasn't actually done anything remotely like that.

I think I was wrong, and I think the chances of a spurious impeachment are a lot lower than I thought, and a lot lower than a lot of liberal bloggers now think (see Jamelle Bouie today, for example).

Two things. One is that I think Republicans, or at least the Republicans in House leadership, really have learned a lesson from the Bill Clinton impeachment. The question, really is which lesson they learned. There's the one from 1998 and 1999 --  spurious impeachment helps the president and hurts the other party. And then there's the one from 2000 -- spurious impeachment, whatever the apparent immediate effect, helps the out-party eventually. I'm fairly confident that John Boehner learned the first of those, which is also (for whatever it's worth) far more likely to actually be true.

The second is that I'm not really sure that the incentives run towards impeachment, anyway. I thought they did...now, I'm not so sure. Scandal-mongering, obviously, is very lucrative within the conservative marketplace, and works well for Members of Congress who seek publicity (that's nothing new, of course). But it's not entirely clear to me that actually moving towards impeachment does anything great for most House Republicans. Among other things, and assuming they're not going to start impeaching Obama as often as they vote to repeal Obamacare, actually finishing an impeachment presumably ends whatever scandal they are mongering. It might be better to just keep the witch-hunt going.

On the other hand, it's certainly possible that the thing develops its own momentum and becomes difficult for them to stop...House Republicans aren't exactly known for resisting the more crazy impulses of talk radio hosts. Still, on balance I think the final word on this is likely to be John Boehner's demonstrated ability in guiding House Republicans past their worst self-destructive instincts. Would it shock me if there's a spurious impeachment? No. And I certainly expect impeachment talk to continue, whether or not there's any actual evidence of administration malfeasance. But overall, I think I've overstated the chances of the House really going through with it.

25 comments:

  1. Is a spurious impeachment more likely to come before or after the midterms?

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  2. Bouie said: "The conservative base wants it, and as we’ve seen over the last four years, that’s all it takes for the Republican Party to act."

    That seems like pretty solid reasoning to me. I mean, do you really think Boehner has the gumption to rein in this crew if they get rolling on impeachment?

    Also, bear in mind that no Republican would ever think an impeachment over Benghazi or IRS would be "spurious" in any way. They'll probably think that Obama's scandal (whatever it may be) is orders of magnitude more serious than whatever Bill Clinton did. So any "lessons" learned from 1998 will promptly be thrown out the window.

    On the other hand, the lesson of 2010 (i.e., treating the president as a mortal enemy who must be opposed at all costs = massive electoral gains) will still be fresh in the GOP's mind.

    I'm not saying impeachment will redound to the GOP's favor. I'm just saying I can't see anything stopping that particular locomotive once it gets moving.

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  3. Just out of curiosity, Jonathon, do you think that the incentives of the conservative marketplace are what drive the Republican impeachment machine? If so, is this something that Democratic presidents should just prepare for?

    I still wonder why Democrats let Bush and Cheney get away with torture.

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  4. There's no point in impeaching Obama when the Democrats have a majority in the Senate and clearly won't convict and remove the President on the kind of silly charges the GOP could bring at this point. We'll see what happens if the GOP takes the Senate in 2014 (which obviously I hope doesn't happen).

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    1. C'mon now. The point of impeachment is to sully the guy's character and reputation. Removal from office would just be icing on the cake.

      Three weeks of House Impeachment Hearings will take care of that just fine, thank you very much.

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    2. I agree with Andrew that the point isn't conviction but rather the symbolism of attaching an impeachment to his legacy. I also don't think it matters whether the GOP controls the Senate since conviction requires 2/3s, which they will never get, absent evidence of an actual impeachable offense. I guess the symbolic significance of a 52-48 vote to convict instead of a 47-53 vote is not nothing, but again I think the main point is to force these stories into the public awareness to tarnish the administration/Democratic Party.

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    3. But how many times can the Republicans do this without doing even worse to their own legacy? A party that does not accept the legitimacy of any president other than one of their own, and the legitimacy of voters and constituencies other than their own, is creating a legacy of resistance to, disrespect for, and the undermining of, democracy. Sure their most partisan supporters like this stuff -- they want one party rule. That is a very ugly legacy.

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  5. I agree that spurious impeachment is unlikely. One of the other lessons the Republicans must have learned from the Clinton impeachment is that the perception of such things changes over time. In 1999, obstruction of Paula Jones' right to legal discovery seemed like a not-insignificant matter; today all anyone can recall is the blue dress, knee pads, and the rest of the prurient detail. Even Watergate has lost a lot of its original urgency.

    Like the rest of you I'm not sure who drives the Republican train; that said, it should be pretty obvious to everyone that, 15 years hence,

    a) All the old white guys currently listening to Rush Limbaugh will be dead or nearly so, and

    b) No one will be able to remember Benghazi or the IRS controversy.

    Given the obvious increased urgency for diversity in the GOP a decade or so from now, it seems hard to imagine that the adults in the room would shake down the first minority President over something that everyone will have obviously forgotten in five years' time.

    Unless you believe the lunatics really are running the asylum, it just seems vanishingly unlikely that would occur.

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    1. Given the obvious increased urgency for diversity in the GOP a decade or so from now, it seems hard to imagine that the adults in the room would shake down the first minority President over something that everyone will have obviously forgotten in five years' time.

      This is a clear, rational, reasoned thought process.

      Just totally inappropriate for gauging how Congressional Republicans will act.

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    2. CSH makes a crucial point here. Obama is the first black president. Now, it may not dawn on these nitwits how that changes the calculus, but if they go after him over anything that isn't Watergate-scale in its obvious seriousness, the backlash will be absolutely ferocious. It would be taking a blowtorch to all the efforts to rebrand the GOP as more minority-friendly. And I think enough of them probably understand this, however dimly, to make for some interesting behind-the-scenes (and possibly out-in-the-open) intraparty fights if an impeachment effort starts to get any momentum.

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  6. Impeachment of President Obama by the House in very unlikely. Boehner listens to Republicans from marginal districts much more than Gingrich did, and they would very much oppose impeachment. Here in New Jersey, our six House Republicans win by getting votes from moderates and independents; Romney did not win any of our Congressional districts by a double digit margin, and 2 of our 6 House members represent districts Obama won in 2012. At least five of our six House Republicans would oppose impeachment; I'm not sure about Scott Garrett of the fifth district, who is very conservative. Rep. Frelinghuysen of the 11th district has a good chance of chairing the powerful Appropriations Committee after the 2016 election if Republicans hold onto the House majority, and other members hope to advance to important subcommittee chairmanships. Senior and mid-seniority House Republicans are mostly looking to advance in their Congressional careers, and not looking to rock the boat too much and risk losing the House majority. In 1998, Republicans in the House majority were more adventuresome than the current crop, I think.

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    1. Good info and great point that it is personal career-driven incentives that guide Congressional behavior. Obviously there are some Reps whose professional interests are best served by stirring up controversy and feeding red meat to the base, but it seems like they could achieve that without the full caucus resorting to impeachment. In fact it might even be better for them to be the brave mavericks calling for impeachment while GOP House leaders dawdle.

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  7. I think one of us must be pretty naive, because I read things like "I'm not really sure that the incentives run towards impeachment, anyway" and wonder who exactly you're talking about. Do you think Steve Stockman is dispassionately reviewing his objectives and calculating whether impeachment is the best way for him to achieve those objectives? Or do you think he's yelling "We got 'im!"

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    1. In my imagination, I picture Stockman in his office, poring over an Excel spreadsheet detailing all the pros and cons of impeachment, the effects it will have on his constituents and his party, and weighing all the evidence for and against to determine how to make the best rational decision.

      I then picture him spinning around in his chair, unholstering his .45 and firing a few rounds into the Obama-face dartboard hanging on the other side of the office.

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    2. Stockman by himself cannot impeach Obama. Neither can a significant minority or even a *majority* of the GOP caucus. It would take a near-unanimous vote of the caucus--if even 17 of the 234 Republicans defect, there is no impeachment. And yes, there are at least 17 non-crazy (conservative, yes, even very conservative but not crazy) Republicans.

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    3. Like Anonymous and David T said above, there are enough Republicans who would not go along with impeachment unless Obama actually committed a crime.

      That's the biggest difference to me -- Clinton actually committed a crime (perjury). People can disagree about whether he should have been removed from office for that offense, whether that offense was serious enough to warrant impeachment, or whether he should have been under oath in the first place, but he did break the law. Much like Andrew Johnson technically broke the law, although he, too, was set up by Congress to fail.

      Even if you take the most ungenerous point of view that Obama personally ordered the editing of the Benghazi talking points (God that sounds so stupid...), it's not a crime. Presidents can lie to the American people without breaking the law

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  8. Obama is not going to be impeached, unless it comes out that he actually did real work (although illegal work) and spent real time actually running anything (although in a criminal fashion), and that is unlikely. He likely didn't commit any illegal acts himself, and voters were stupid enough to re-elect the fool, so the only option available is criminal charges against those who committed illegal acts, impeachment of senior officials, and holding any politician accountable who supports or defends the guy.
    aconservativeteacher.com

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  9. I don't think the GOP has learned one damn thing from the Clinton impeachment. In fact I don't think they've learned anything for years. They are so out of touch with what concerns the American public that they can't see two feet away from their eyes. They just don't get it. At all.

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  10. I'm really surprised that he wasn't impeached four years ago because he ordered a hamburger with dijon mustard (http://mediamatters.org/research/2009/05/07/dijon-derangement-syndrome-conservative-media-a/149946). It's as good an excuse as any other they've come up with.

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  11. And if he is not impeached we secede, right?

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  12. And if he is not impeached we secede, right?

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  13. Anonymous: Impeach our President? GOP is scraping the bottom of the barrel!!

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  14. Just wondering, if impeached president still able to benefit from the executive pardons.
    Also,wondering whom he will pardoned.

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    1. My guess. It won't be former Illinois politians.

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  15. I think impeachment would be a major misfire for the GOP. Just talking about it will get the major media outlets rehashing the Bush/Cheney years and how their offenses were more serious, yet no impeachment. It will make the GOP look even more petty than they already do towards the President.

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