The headline on the L.A. Times story reads, “Boehner rules out impeachment.” But when it comes to what the House Speaker actually said yesterday, the headline isn’t quite right.
“No, no, no, no,” Congressman Greg Walden, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, told Politico when asked whether the House would initiate impeachment proceedings. Boehner told reporters on Tuesday that there were “no plans” to remove Obama, calling the idea “a scam started by Democrats at the White House.”
We already know with certainty that the Ohio Republican is wrong when he blames this on the White House – the impeachment talk has come from GOP lawmakers and it’s been going on for years. Indeed, if this is a “scam,” John Boehner’s own leadership team is in on it – the new House Majority Whip, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) refused to take presidential impeachment off the table during an interview just three days ago.
But then there’s the part about Boehner’s “plans.”
There are a few angles to this story that are running on parallel tracks, all of which carry equal weight. The first is the GOP’s Frankenstein problem: Republican leaders created a monster, doing nothing to tamp down the right’s crusade to tear down the Obama presidency, and they suddenly find themselves scrambling now that the monster is running lose. As Arit John put it, Republicans have “lost control of the impeachment plot they hatched.”
It’s led to, among other things, an awkward dance in which pro-impeachment Republicans try to walk back their own rhetoric now that they realize how happy Democrats are to hear it.
The second is the intra-party tensions that won’t go away. In 2006, Nancy Pelosi disappointed some on the left by definitively ruling out presidential impeachment, taking it “off the table.” Today’s Republican leaders will do no such thing for a very specific reason: too many GOP lawmakers really do support the idea. Indeed, there was palpable disappointment among many on the far-right yesterday when Boehner suggested impeachment isn’t part of his future plans.
As Jonathan Capehart put it, “A ‘No, don’t be ridiculous. We’re not going to impeach the president. Period!’ from Scalise on Sunday or from Boehner today would have put an end to the chatter. But no.”
And finally, there’s the ongoing problem of Boehner’s weakness as House Speaker. By all appearances, Boehner appears genuinely reluctant to pursue an impeachment scheme. When he says he has “no plans” to push such a reckless move, he’s almost certainly telling the truth.
But Boehner also had “no plans” to shut down the government. He had “no plans” to force a debt-ceiling crisis. He had “no plans” to kill immigration reform. He had “no plans” to ignore the Hastert Rule. He had “no plans” to ignore the Boehner Rule.
The point is, it’s become painfully obvious that the Speaker may hold the gavel, but he’s not in charge in any meaningful sense. He may not intend to go after Obama with some ridiculous impeachment crusade, but given Boehner’s weakness and lack of credibility, the decision probably isn’t his to make.