The political world’s reaction to chatter about presidential impeachment took a curious turn this week, when Republicans and a variety of pundits directed their ire at Democrats – for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense.
Karl Rove, a stalwart in the area of political propriety and forthright campaign-season rhetoric, said on Fox News this week, “[President Obama] is playing with the American people by suggesting a constitutional crisis where none exists…. Shame on him and shame on those people in the administration who participate with him.” Ron Fournier, naturally, is thinking along similar lines.
There’s no denying that Democrats are delighted that so many congressional Republicans have raised the specter of impeachment. The GOP made this a campaign issue, and in an election year, Dems appear eager to ensure the issue backfires on the Republicans who brought it up.
What’s less clear is the justification for the double standard. This week, it seems the public has been confronted with an odd condemnation: when Republicans talk about impeachment, it’s fine, but when Democrats talk about what Republicans are talking about, it’s an outrage.
E.J. Dionne explained today that issue goes beyond “the open demands for throwing Obama out from Sarah Palin, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.) and many others on the right wing. The deeper problem lies in the proliferation of loose impeachment talk linked with one overheated anti-Obama charge after another.”
As far back as May 2010, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the allegation that the White House had offered then-Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) a job so he wouldn’t oppose Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican-turned-Democrat, “is in fact a crime and could be impeachable.” … During a hearing on “Operation Fast and Furious” in December 2011, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) accused the Justice Department of withholding information and said that “if we don’t get to the bottom of this,” Congress might have to resort to the “only one alternative” it had, “and it is called impeachment.” […]In May 2013, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said that, because of allegations of a White House Benghazi coverup, “people may be starting to use the I-word before too long” about Obama. Also in 2013, Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) said it would be his “dream come true” to author Articles of Impeachment against the president, while Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said the nation was “perilously close” to circumstances that might require impeachment.
E.J. could have gone further, but he ran out of space. There are fairly comprehensive lists of all the Republicans – including many sitting, elected members of Congress in both chambers – who’ve pushed the impeachment idea in recent years.
I get the sense the complainers who find it distasteful that Democrats are exploiting an opportunity may not have been paying attention to the issue until very recently. And for those who just recently started noticing the impeachment hullabaloo, I can appreciate why it seems as if Democrats – in the White House and on Capitol Hill – are manufacturing an outrage out of nothing.
But in reality, they’re not. Congressional Republicans started pushing impeachment rhetoric four years ago. They’ve held hearings on the subject. They’ve given speeches on the subject. They’ve done interviews on the subject. Their base has been persuaded on the subject. As recently as four days ago, new House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was given an opportunity to take impeachment off the table, but he refused.
Republicans – in Congress, not just pundits and activists – have spent literally four years pushing the prospect of presidential impeachment, causing little more than shrugs from the political establishment. But when Democrats walk through the door the GOP opened, it’s apparently “shameful”?
Why is that?
For some, it’s the Dems’ fundraising efforts that are distasteful. But let’s keep a couple of relevant details in mind. First, in 2006, after Democrats took Bush’s impeachment off the table, Republicans nevertheless ran with fundraising appeals that suggested Dems might pursue impeachment anyway – so GOP donors should pony up. As best as I can tell, Beltway pundits had nothing to say about this at the time.
And second, parties that raise funds off campaign issues in a campaign year are hardly guilty of wrongdoing. If the political establishment perceives this as indecorous, perhaps insiders should take this up with the party that picked the fight in the first place.