WASHINGTON — For many on the far political right, it’s high time to charge President Barack Obama with high crimes and misdemeanors.
The “I-word” – impeachment – is creeping back into the political lexicon nearly 16 years after the House of Representatives impeached President Bill Clinton for lying under oath about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
From conservative media outlets to the campaign trail to book stores, chatter about impeaching Obama and members of his administration has heated up in recent weeks. It’s fueled by conservative anger over the president’s increasing use of executive actions on issues such as immigration and air pollution regulations, the exchange of Taliban detainees for the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdhal, and the familiar issue of the Affordable Care Act.
“I submit that Barack Hussein Obama’s unilateral negotiations with terrorists and the ensuing release of their key leadership without consult – mandated by law – with the U.S. Congress represents high crimes and misdemeanors, an impeachable offense,” former Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., wrote on his website in June.
South Dakota’s Republican Party passed a resolution at its June convention calling for Obama’s impeachment for violating “his oath of office in numerous ways.”
“We wanted to have a shot across the bow to the president and Congress that nobody is above the law,” said Dr. Allen Unruh, the delegate who sponsored the resolution. “Our goal is to embolden Congress.”
Unruh said he has a “thick book on impeachable offenses of the president.” So does Andrew McCarthy, who’s been making the conservative media rounds with his recently released book “Faithless Execution: Building the Case for Obama’s Impeachment,” which offers a sort of template for removing Obama from office.
The impeachment drumbeat from the right has gotten loud enough that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, flatly stated last month that his planned lawsuit against Obama for alleged overreach of his executive authority isn’t a prelude to impeaching the president, something establishment Republicans feel would be a wasted endeavor that could hurt the party at the polls.
“I don’t see the passion for it, quite honestly. It obscures the issues we want to talk about,” said former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. “I don’t think Speaker Boehner or (Senate Minority Leader Mitch) McConnell want to dance on that pin. People remember 1998.”
Republicans were expecting a midterm election boon that year powered by their dogged pursuit of the Lewinsky scandal. Instead, the party lost five seats in the House and failed to pick up seats in the Senate. It marked the first time since 1934 that a sitting president’s party gained seats in a midterm election. The failure led then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., to relinquish his gavel.
Fast-forward to 2014, where some Democrats predict that an Obama impeachment would be bad for the country but good for the party.
“From the Republican perspective, it may be good politics in their primaries but it would also be helpful to Democrats in midterm elections to bump up Democratic turnout,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic Party strategist who worked in the Clinton White House. “It would be the GOP ‘Thelma and Louise' approach: Let’s get in the car and drive off the cliff.”
And that even worries some major tea party supporters, who often clash with the Republican establishment. Sal Russo, a co-founder of the Tea Party Express, calls impeachment talk an unwanted distraction.
“You have to think we learned a lesson from Clinton’s impeachment,” he said. “To do it, you have to have public support for it, and I don’t think that’s present. I don’t see it (impeachment) as an issue today.”
Though he believes Obama has committed offenses against the Constitution, conservative talk radio show host Rush Limbaugh agrees with Russo about the lack of a public appetite for impeachment.
“Without that, it is a waste of time, if you don’t have the political will,” Limbaugh said recently. “Meaning, if the Republican Party doesn’t have the gonads, and if the American people are not desirous of it, then it’s just whistling into the wind.”
But that’s not stopping people from talking about it – or trying it. Last year, Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, reportedly gave all House members copies of the book “Impeachable Offenses: The Case For Removing Barack Obama From Office” by Aaron Klein and Brenda Elliott.
Stockman had a pro-impeachment petition on the website of his failed 2014 Senate campaign. The Internet is full of similar drives: The Americans for Legal Immigration PAC’s “Impeach Obama” Facebook page has more than 203,000 “likes.”
Someone identified only as S.M. of Greensboro, N.C., filed an impeach Obama request on the White House website’s “We the People” petition page. The petition, which says Obama illegally waged war against Libya, unconstitutionally implemented the Affordable Care Act and breaks the law by appointing “czars” without Senate approval, has 48,890 signatures.
The White House response to S.M.’s request was obvious.
“The short answer is that we won’t be calling for the president’s impeachment,” the White House said in its official response, “and given the fact that you made your appeal to the White House itself, we doubt you were holding your breath waiting for our support.”