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House GOP leader leaves presidential impeachment on the table

When Sarah Palin talks about impeachment, it's one thing. When a member of the House Republican leadership team says something similar, it's something else.
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 19, 2014.
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 19, 2014.
House Republicans recently had to elect new leaders, and rank-and-file conservatives insisted that at least one far-right Tea Partier join the team. They succeeded: Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), a fan of debt-ceiling crises and a lawmaker who believes President Obama may be trying to create a "dictatorship," was chosen as the new House Majority Whip.
Yesterday was something of a coming-out party for the Louisiana Republican: Scalise sat down with Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday," his first Sunday show appearance of this Congress. It didn't go especially well. As Adam Serwer noted, the congressman, recently chosen as the third-ranking GOP official in the House, refused to take presidential impeachment off the table.

Wallace: Will you consider impeaching the president? Scalise: This might be the first White House in history that's trying to start the narrative of impeaching their own president. Ultimately, what we want to do is see the president follow the laws. But the president took an oath to faithfully execute the laws of this land, and he's not. In fact, the Supreme Court, unanimously, more than 12 times, unanimously said, the president overreached, and actually did things he doesn't have the authority to do.

First, that's not even close to what the Supreme Court said, and the fact that a member of the House Republican leadership team would repeat such nonsense on national television -- in response to a question he was no doubt prepared for -- is alarming.
Second, and perhaps more important, was the fact that Scalise didn't answer the question. To his credit, Wallace followed up, asking, "So if he overreaches again on executive action to defer more deportations, what will the House do?" Again, the new House Republican leader dodged. So Wallace asked again whether or not impeachment is "off the table."
Scalise responded, "The White House wants to talk about impeachment and ironically they're going out and trying to fundraise off that, too." Once more, the host said, "I'm asking you, sir." The GOP lawmaker again refused to answer, saying, "The White House will do anything they can to change the topic away from the president's failed agenda."
Of course, Congress won't approve the president's agenda, making the criticism rather odd, but even putting that aside, Wallace gave the new House Majority Whip multiple chances to answer a straightforward question. In each instance, Scalise refused.
Which is exactly what Democrats wanted to see.
The White House congressional Dems have made no secret of the fact that they love it when Republicans raise the specter of presidential impeachment -- it reinforces the perception of out-of-control Republican radicalism; it helps energize the Democratic base; and it drives home the point to mainstream voters that GOP lawmakers are less interested in governing and more interested in their blinding hatred of the president.
And so, as Republican senators, House members, congressional candidates, pundits, and a certain former vice presidential candidate have all talked up the "I" word, Democrats have reacted with not-so-subtle glee, practically daring the GOP to keep this going. With this in mind, having a member of the House Republican leadership team appear on Fox News and dodge impeachment questions was like manna from heaven for Dems.

House Democrats on Sunday said Republicans are keeping the impeachment of President Obama on the table. [...] Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said Scalise was "refusing to rule out" impeachment. "The fact that the third-highest-ranking Republican in the House is refusing to rule out impeachment offers a stunning view of the extreme measures this Republican Congress will take to push their reckless partisan agenda," Israel said. "Republicans will spend the final week before their summer vacation plotting their lawsuit against the president, and now Scalise just made it clear that impeachment is absolutely on the table for House Republicans."

It would be incredibly easy for the GOP to nip this in the bud: Republicans could simply rule out the possibility and put the matter to rest. But they don't, in part because the party's right-wing base wouldn't tolerate it, and in part because many GOP lawmakers genuinely believe presidential impeachment -- for misdeeds that no one has yet been able to identify -- remains a legitimate possibility.
As for Scalise complaining that Democrats are "trying to fundraise" off this issue, this is especially weak tea. When Republican leaders talk publicly about what they might do if voters elect them, it creates what's popularly known as a "campaign issue." Telling Democrats they shouldn't seek campaign contributions on a campaign issue -- an issue that Republicans, not Dems, put on the table -- is nonsense.