When Impeachment Becomes Fundraising Bait

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

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers speaks at the 2013 Tribal Nations Conference held at the Department of Interior Building on November 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. Obama meet with leaders of 566 Native American tribes earlier in the day at teh White House.
National Journal
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.

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.”  

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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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