When Impeachment Becomes Fundraising Bait

The White House lost moral ground by working with congressional Democrats to convert fear to cash.

National Journal
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Ron Fournier
July 29, 2014, 5:51 a.m.

Wel­come, folks, to the Im­peach­ment Telethon, where straw men and stalk­ing horses are paraded across the Wash­ing­ton stage while polit­ic­al parties beg for your money.

“Look at this poor pres­id­ent,” Demo­crats sob. “Mean ol’ Re­pub­lic­ans are try­ing to des­troy him. Send us your checks!”

“See this tattered Con­sti­tu­tion,” Re­pub­lic­ans cry, “That tyr­ant Barack Hus­sein Obama is treat­ing it like toi­let pa­per. Send us your checks!”

What a cir­cus.

Pres­id­en­tial im­peach­ment is the Con­sti­tu­tion’s nuc­le­ar op­tion, cre­ated by the Founders to pro­tect against treas­on­ous and crim­in­al chief ex­ec­ut­ives. Par­tis­ans aside, most Amer­ic­ans un­der­stand that im­peach­ment is re­served for the most ex­treme cir­cum­stances. They don’t like politi­cians play­ing polit­ics with the pres­id­ency.

Re­pub­lic­ans im­peached Pres­id­ent Clin­ton for ly­ing about his af­fair with Mon­ica Lew­in­sky, and voters pun­ished them. Demo­crat­ic House mem­bers filed art­icles of im­peach­ment against Pres­id­ent George W. Bush, and the stunt went nowhere.

Now, sev­er­al prom­in­ent con­ser­vat­ives, in­clud­ing 2008 GOP vice pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee Sarah Pal­in, are call­ing for Pres­id­ent Obama’s im­peach­ment. The third-rank­ing of­fi­cial in the GOP House, Steve Scal­ise, re­fused Sunday to rule it out.

Fear­ing back­lash, House Speak­er John Boehner is try­ing to sa­ti­ate con­ser­vat­ives with a law­suit chal­len­ging Obama’s leg­al au­thor­ity to amend Obama­care. The suit tracks GOP talk­ing points that la­bel Obama a law­less tyr­ant. The USA Today ed­it­or­i­al board called the suit “a polit­ic­al sideshow.” Re­pub­lic­ans are us­ing it to mo­tiv­ate voters and donors.

This is ex­actly the kind of polit­ics that Obama ran against in 2008, and that he prom­ised to change. You might ex­pect the White House to brush off such neg­li­gible im­peach­ment talk, and fo­cus on gov­ern­ing, right? Wrong.

After rais­ing $500,000 in the 24 hours fol­low­ing Pal­in’s im­peach­ment call, the Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee hatched a two-part plan. First, find and mass-dis­trib­ute every mind­less GOP quote about im­peach­ment. Second, stoke fears; pre­tend that im­peach­ment might ac­tu­ally hap­pen, even if do­ing so could spir­al in­to a self-ful­filling proph­ecy.

The Demo­crats’ most cyn­ic­al act was to en­gage the White House in this farce. Obama’s seni­or ad­viser, Dan Pfeif­fer, told re­port­ers that the West Wing takes im­peach­ment chat­ter “very ser­i­ously.” As hoped, the gam­bit raised ser­i­ous money ““ $2.1 mil­lion for the Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee over the week­end.

Wel­come, folks, to the Im­peach­ment Telethon, where straw men and stalk­ing horses are paraded across the Wash­ing­ton stage while polit­ic­al parties beg for your money.

“Look at this poor pres­id­ent,” Demo­crats sob. “Mean ol’ Re­pub­lic­ans are try­ing to des­troy him. Send us your checks!”

“See this tattered Con­sti­tu­tion,” Re­pub­lic­ans cry, “That tyr­ant Barack Hus­sein Obama is treat­ing it like toi­let pa­per. Send us your checks!”

What a cir­cus.

Pres­id­en­tial im­peach­ment is the Con­sti­tu­tion’s nuc­le­ar op­tion, cre­ated by the Founders to pro­tect against treas­on­ous and crim­in­al chief ex­ec­ut­ives. Par­tis­ans aside, most Amer­ic­ans un­der­stand that im­peach­ment is re­served for the most ex­treme cir­cum­stances. They don’t like politi­cians play­ing polit­ics with the pres­id­ency.

Re­pub­lic­ans im­peached Pres­id­ent Clin­ton for ly­ing about his af­fair with Mon­ica Lew­in­sky, and voters pun­ished them. Demo­crat­ic House mem­bers filed art­icles of im­peach­ment against Pres­id­ent George W. Bush, and the stunt went nowhere.

Now, sev­er­al prom­in­ent con­ser­vat­ives, in­clud­ing 2008 GOP vice pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee Sarah Pal­in, are call­ing for Pres­id­ent Obama’s im­peach­ment. The third-rank­ing of­fi­cial in the GOP House, Steve Scal­ise, re­fused Sunday to rule it out.

Fear­ing back­lash, House Speak­er John Boehner is try­ing to sa­ti­ate con­ser­vat­ives with a law­suit chal­len­ging Obama’s leg­al au­thor­ity to amend Obama­care. The suit tracks GOP talk­ing points that la­bel Obama a law­less tyr­ant. The USA Today ed­it­or­i­al board called the suit “a polit­ic­al sideshow.” Re­pub­lic­ans are us­ing it to mo­tiv­ate voters and donors.

This is ex­actly the kind of polit­ics that Obama ran against in 2008, and that he prom­ised to change. You might ex­pect the White House to brush off such neg­li­gible im­peach­ment talk, and fo­cus on gov­ern­ing, right? Wrong.

After rais­ing $500,000 in the 24 hours fol­low­ing Pal­in’s im­peach­ment call, the Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee hatched a two-part plan. First, find and mass-dis­trib­ute every mind­less GOP quote about im­peach­ment. Second, stoke fears; pre­tend that im­peach­ment might ac­tu­ally hap­pen, even if do­ing so could spir­al in­to a self-ful­filling proph­ecy.

The Demo­crats’ most cyn­ic­al act was to en­gage the White House in this farce. Obama’s seni­or ad­viser, Dan Pfeif­fer, told re­port­ers that the West Wing takes im­peach­ment chat­ter “very ser­i­ously.” As hoped, the gam­bit raised ser­i­ous money ““ $2.1 mil­lion for the Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee over the week­end.

Pfeif­fer would ar­gue that Boehner’s law­suit en­dorses the no­tion that Obama’s ac­tions are il­leg­al and there­fore opens the door to im­peach­ment. I think that’s a stretch, but Pfeif­fer could make the ar­gu­ment with a straight face. What makes it wrong is us­ing the ar­gu­ment — and the of­fice of the pres­id­ency — as bait for cam­paign cash.

Without irony, Boehner’s spokes­man de­nounced Demo­crats for play­ing polit­ics with im­peach­ment, say­ing the White House shouldn’t fo­cus on “phony is­sues.” That line was about as con­vin­cing as when Obama dis­missed the IRS and oth­er con­tro­ver­sies as “phony scan­dals.”  

Wel­come, folks, to the Im­peach­ment Telethon, where straw men and stalk­ing horses are paraded across the Wash­ing­ton stage while polit­ic­al parties beg for your money.

“Look at this poor pres­id­ent,” Demo­crats sob. “Mean ol’ Re­pub­lic­ans are try­ing to des­troy him. Send us your checks!”

“See this tattered Con­sti­tu­tion,” Re­pub­lic­ans cry, “That tyr­ant Barack Hus­sein Obama is treat­ing it like toi­let pa­per. Send us your checks!”

What a cir­cus.

Pres­id­en­tial im­peach­ment is the Con­sti­tu­tion’s nuc­le­ar op­tion, cre­ated by the Founders to pro­tect against treas­on­ous and crim­in­al chief ex­ec­ut­ives. Par­tis­ans aside, most Amer­ic­ans un­der­stand that im­peach­ment is re­served for the most ex­treme cir­cum­stances. They don’t like politi­cians play­ing polit­ics with the pres­id­ency.

Re­pub­lic­ans im­peached Pres­id­ent Clin­ton for ly­ing about his af­fair with Mon­ica Lew­in­sky, and voters pun­ished them. Demo­crat­ic House mem­bers filed art­icles of im­peach­ment against Pres­id­ent George W. Bush, and the stunt went nowhere.

Now, sev­er­al prom­in­ent con­ser­vat­ives, in­clud­ing 2008 GOP vice pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee Sarah Pal­in, are call­ing for Pres­id­ent Obama’s im­peach­ment. The third-rank­ing of­fi­cial in the GOP House, Steve Scal­ise, re­fused Sunday to rule it out.

Fear­ing back­lash, House Speak­er John Boehner is try­ing to sa­ti­ate con­ser­vat­ives with a law­suit chal­len­ging Obama’s leg­al au­thor­ity to amend Obama­care. The suit tracks GOP talk­ing points that la­bel Obama a law­less tyr­ant. The USA Today ed­it­or­i­al board called the suit “a polit­ic­al sideshow.” Re­pub­lic­ans are us­ing it to mo­tiv­ate voters and donors.

This is ex­actly the kind of polit­ics that Obama ran against in 2008, and that he prom­ised to change. You might ex­pect the White House to brush off such neg­li­gible im­peach­ment talk, and fo­cus on gov­ern­ing, right? Wrong.

After rais­ing $500,000 in the 24 hours fol­low­ing Pal­in’s im­peach­ment call, the Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee hatched a two-part plan. First, find and mass-dis­trib­ute every mind­less GOP quote about im­peach­ment. Second, stoke fears; pre­tend that im­peach­ment might ac­tu­ally hap­pen, even if do­ing so could spir­al in­to a self-ful­filling proph­ecy.

The Demo­crats’ most cyn­ic­al act was to en­gage the White House in this farce. Obama’s seni­or ad­viser, Dan Pfeif­fer, told re­port­ers that the West Wing takes im­peach­ment chat­ter “very ser­i­ously.” As hoped, the gam­bit raised ser­i­ous money ““ $2.1 mil­lion for the Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee over the week­end.

Pfeif­fer would ar­gue that Boehner’s law­suit en­dorses the no­tion that Obama’s ac­tions are il­leg­al and there­fore opens the door to im­peach­ment. I think that’s a stretch, but Pfeif­fer could make the ar­gu­ment with a straight face. What makes it wrong is us­ing the ar­gu­ment — and the of­fice of the pres­id­ency — as bait for cam­paign cash.

Without irony, Boehner’s spokes­man de­nounced Demo­crats for play­ing polit­ics with im­peach­ment, say­ing the White House shouldn’t fo­cus on “phony is­sues.” That line was about as con­vin­cing as when Obama dis­missed the IRS and oth­er con­tro­ver­sies as “phony scan­dals.”  

Boehner said today, “We have no plans to im­peach the pres­id­ent. We have no fu­ture plans. Listen, it’s all a scam star­ted by Demo­crats at the White House.” He’s wrong; his party star­ted the im­peach­ment train, and both parties are run­ning scams.

Pfeif­fer has denied Obama the mor­al high ground on im­peach­ment. Yes, Demo­crats will say that Re­pub­lic­ans star­ted it. But why lower your party to the GOP’s level? Why lower the pres­id­ency? Why sound like a kinder­gart­ner whin­ing to his teach­er, “He star­ted it!”

A bet­ter choice would be to sic the White House’s team of tax­pay­er-fun­ded law­yers on the law­suit, while the rest of Obama’s team runs the coun­try and man­ages for­eign policy crises. Clin­ton proved in the 1990s that good gov­ern­ing trumps bad Re­pub­lic­an motives.

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