Whenever Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) makes headlines for saying something ridiculous, a regrettably frequent occurrence, there’s a natural “Who cares what he thinks?” reflex. It’s understandable and generally wise – it often seems as if the far-right Iowan is just looking for attention.
But I’d suggest dismissing this out of hand is a mistake.
[King] on Sunday kept the impeachment chatter alive, saying “Congress needs to sit down and have a serious look at the Constitution and that includes that ‘I word’ that we don’t want to say.”The Republican congressman was responding to Obama’s Friday comments on immigration, in which he said he would “act alone” and use his executive authority to defer the deportation of the hundreds of thousands of immigrant children.
Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” King added, “I think, then, we have to sit down and take a look at that. Where would we draw the line otherwise? If that’s not enough to bring that about, then I don’t know what would be.”
In context, “that” seemed to refer to presidential impeachment.
Of course, the Iowa Republican has made similar comments before, so it’s not as if yesterday’s exchange represents a rhetorical escalation. So why should anyone care?
A few reasons, actually. First, GOP leaders spent nearly all of last week characterizing impeachment talk as a “scam” cooked up by Democrats desperate for a campaign scheme. The argument is contradicted by four years of Republican rhetoric about impeachment, but this was the GOP line and the party was sticking to it.
That is, until yesterday, when King went on Fox News to declare he wants to “have a serious look” at “that ‘I word’ that we don’t want to say.” Not to put too fine a point on this, but there’s a problem when some congressional Republicans insist impeachment talk is absurd while other congressional Republicans continue to push impeachment talk publicly.
Second, as outlandish as King can be, it’s difficult to dismiss him as an obscure and irrelevant back-bencher when House Republican leaders put him in charge of writing important legislation.
Which brings us to the final reason to take King’s outbursts seriously: he may have more influence than the actual GOP leadership when it comes to the House Republicans’ agenda.
Before last week, the typical response to impeachment chatter, especially from the Beltway media, was to point to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who seems genuinely uninterested in pushing this crusade. If the Speaker has no intention of heading down this road, the argument goes, then there’s no point in taking it seriously.
But one need look no further than the events of Thursday and Friday to realize that Boehner isn’t really in charge of his chamber, at least not in any kind of practical sense. If House Republicans work themselves into a genuine fever over impeaching Obama, are we to believe the hapless Speaker is going to be effective in ensuring cooler heads prevail?
Or is it more likely that Boehner will withdraw and allow his right-wing members to do as they please, taking cues from members like Steve King?