In 1998, congressional Republicans, filled with irrational rage towards a Democratic president in his sixth year, launched an impeachment crusade the American mainstream saw as wildly unnecessary. The electoral results were striking: Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party had the best sixth-year midterms of any administration in a century.
The history is not lost on contemporary Democrats. If GOP overreach 16 years ago alienated Republicans from the public at large and encouraged Democratic voters to show up for the elections, maybe history can repeat itself now that the GOP is once again launching an outlandish crusade against another Dem White House.
But let’s be clear about the circumstances: Democrats aren’t just shining a bright light on the GOP’s impeachment talk and anti-Obama lawsuit because they’re hoping for a replay of 1998. They also have quantifiable evidence that the strategy is having the desired effect. Wesley Lowery reported yesterday:
The Democrats’ congressional campaign arm pulled in $2.1 million in online donations over the weekend – the best four-day haul of the current election cycle – largely propelled by fundraising pitches tied to speculation that House Republicans could pursue the impeachment of President Obama. […]The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has brought in more than 114,000 donations since Thursday – when the House Rules committee voted to press forward with a lawsuit contesting President Obama’s use of executive action, which some Democrats have suggested is a temporary stand-in for impeachment proceedings – spurred in part by nine e-mail fundraising pitches that directly reference the prospect of a GOP-attempt at pursuing impeachment.
In a statement to the Washington Post, DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said, “Grassroots Democrats across the country see Republican leaders in the House refusing to rule out impeaching the President even as they vote to use taxpayer funds to sue him. It’s no surprise that there’s outrage at this dramatic partisan overreach by a historically unpopular Republican Congress.”
Update: Israel told Roll Call that House Democrats raised $1 million in online contributions in 24 hours on Monday, mostly from small-dollar donors.
In an interesting twist, Dems are so pleased by recent Republican rhetoric that some on the right are accusing Democrats of making the whole thing up.
Ben Dimiero reported yesterday that some conservatives are accusing President Obama and his allies of “ginning up” the issue out of nothing.
In an interview with conspiracy website WND (which has its own “Impeachment Store”), Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) told conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi that President Obama “wants us to impeach him now” because “his senior advisors believe that is the only chance the Democratic Party has to avoid a major electoral defeat. Evidently Obama believes impeachment could motivate the Democratic Party base to come out and vote.”Stockman’s proclamation that the president is “begging to be impeached” was quickly trumpeted as the top story on the Drudge Report and Fox Nation, and Stockman isn’t the only one trying to pin the increase in impeachment discussion on Democrats. While refusing to answer whether impeachment is off the table for House Republicans, incoming House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) claimed “this might be the first White House in History that’s trying to start the narrative of impeaching their own president.”
Nice try, but no. There’s no denying the fact that Democrats are thrilled by Republicans’ overreach, but the notion that Dems “started” this is silly.
I’ve been keeping a close eye on this story in recent years, and I remember reporting back in June 2012 on then-Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the #2 Republican in the chamber at the time, telling a broadcast audience that presidential impeachment was “a possibility” if the Obama administration failed to implement immigration policy to the GOP’s satisfaction.
It wasn’t an isolated comment. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) said in April 2013 he wanted to impeach Obama because of ”all of the czars,” while Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) talked in March 2013 about impeaching Obama for no apparent reason. What’s more, Fox News’ Neil Cavuto suggested in 2012 that Obama might be liable to impeachment over recess appointments; Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) raised the prospect of impeaching Obama over DOMA; and Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) talked up the idea of presidential impeachment because “it would tie things up” in Washington for a while, making governing impossible. Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) even introduced an impeachment resolution, just in case Obama sends U.S. troops to Syria.
We can even go as far back as 2010, when both Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) also raised the specter of impeaching Obama, for reasons that still don’t make any sense, four years later.
More recently, of course, the GOP’s interest has intensified, with several U.S. senators, U.S. House members, congressional candidates, and a certain former vice presidential candidate all talking up the impeachment idea as if it were credible.
Some on the right may find all of this embarrassing now, but accusing Dems of “ginning up” the story out of nothing just isn’t true. The GOP opened the impeachment door; Republicans can’t be too upset now that Democrats have walked through it.
Update: House Speaker John Boehner told reporters this morning, “Listen, it’s all a scam started by Democrats at the White House.” This is demonstrably untrue – Democrats didn’t “start” the impeachment talk at all.