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“The Right’s Impeachment Trap”: How Pundits Blame Obama For GOP Extremism

Every once in a while, those of us who were slow to board the magical Barack Obama 2008 Hope and Change Express get to say “We told you so,” and then go back to work. This is one of those times. Forgive me.

As Ezra Klein insists Obama has achieved success only by “breaking American politics,” and Ron Fournier tells us “the fundamental reason he became president was he was promising there’s no red state, there’s no blue state, I’m going to bring the country together,” people who resisted candidate Obama’s wispy, post-partisan rhetoric back then shake our heads and feel a little bit vindicated. Personally, I have to say: I hate being vindicated (on this, anyway). It would feel so much better to have been wrong.

Somebody broke politics, but it wasn’t Barack Obama — and yet he gave his enemies plenty of evidence to frame him.

Even President Obama has to regret some of his 2008 rhetoric, which partly blamed the Clintons for the right’s vengeful crusade against them, as pundits use it to claim that he not only broke politics, but that he will actually deserve the blame if Republicans impeach him for doing his job. Journalists still blame Democratic presidents for the unhinged behavior of Republicans.

Exhibit A is an allegedly “balanced” Wednesday Fox News panel where the non-right-wingers – journalists Fournier and A.B. Stoddard – joined conservative Charles Krauthammer in suggesting Obama could be responsible for his own impeachment, if he goes ahead with an executive order deferring deportation action on the parents of children who already enjoy deferred status. (Krauthammer called the move “impeachment bait” in Thursday’s Washington Post column.)

But the reaction of Stoddard and Fournier is worth breaking down in detail. (Thanks, Daily Caller, for capturing it.)

“If President Obama goes too far on this — whether it’s within his legal right or not — the outrage will be so incredible on the Republican side, it will probably bring more Democratic losses this fall,” the Hill’s Stoddard began. “Because I don’t know that Latinos are going to turn out this fall as a result of this issue. But it also could become a constitutional crisis.”

So it’s a bad move, “whether it’s within his legal right or not,” because a) it might not work politically and b) “it could also become a constitutional crisis.”

Fournier quickly agreed.

Let’s assume for a second that legally he can do this — just stipulate that, just for a second. Should he do it?  Even if you agree, like I do, that we really need to do something about these 12 million people who are in the shadows, even if you agree that it is legal, I still think there is an argument to be made that he should not do it.

OK, let’s stop there. The president shouldn’t do something to ease the immigration crisis, “even if you agree that it is legal.” Why is that? Fournier has a quick answer:

“Because the fundamental reason he became president was he was promising ‘there’s no red state, there’s no blue state, I’m going to bring the country together.’ He’s been a polarizing president.”

I’m not sure what qualifies Fournier to pronounce “the fundamental reason” Obama was elected, either in 2008 or 2012. Some people may have indeed admired his post-partisan rhetoric. But speaking as a two-time Obama voter, many of us wanted to see healthcare reform and less income inequality. Many members of the Obama coalition, who make less than $50,000, wanted economic relief from the Bush recession and the 30-year downward economic spiral that began under Ronald Reagan. Many of the Latinos who voted for Obama very much wanted immigration reform.

The political desires of the Obama coalition don’t much concern Fournier. “This would be a nuclear bomb that would blow open and make this country even more divided,” he warned. “In a way that most Americans just don’t want.”

In case you missed his point, Fournier followed up his Fox appearance with a whole column elaborating on it. The headline sums up the wrong-headed argument: “Even if reform is needed and legal, endowing the presidency with new, unilateral powers is a dangerous precedent.”

Obviously if reform is “legal,” then it wouldn’t endow the presidency with “new, unilateral powers.”

Kevin Drum boils the argument down to this: “President Obama shouldn’t do anything that might make Republicans mad.”

It really is that simple. If you grant, as Fournier seems to, that the president can legally change deportation priorities, but you think he shouldn’t, because it will further divide the country and Republicans will use it as an excuse to impeach him, you’re granting irrational people control of the nation. This is largely what happened during the debt ceiling crisis of 2011, but that time, Obama was listening to the Fourniers and Stoddards of the world, and trying to both be bipartisan, and also to appease the crazy Tea Partyers who would blow up the global economy rather than raise the debt limit.

That only enabled the crazies, who were being coddled by supposed moderates like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who crowed approvingly that his party’s right flank proved the debt ceiling was “a hostage worth ransoming.”

So we know Republican leaders aren’t going to stand up to the party’s far-right base. And we know Krauthammer is going to accuse the president of creating a constitutional crisis to turn out his base for the midterm elections, because that’s Krauthammer’s job. But it would be nice if writers who don’t identify themselves with conservatism could describe this dynamic, maybe even critique it — not become part of it.

For the record, I can’t say conclusively whether the executive action the president is pondering is “legal,” and neither can Fournier or Krauthammer. (They both rely on Obama’s own previous statements denying that he has such powers; so he was right then, but he’s wrong now?) Anyway, it’s a perfectly legitimate point to debate. But I feel confident in saying that the enormously cautious Obama, who is sometimes too cautious for my taste, won’t do it cavalierly – not to turn out his base in November, and certainly not as “impeachment bait.”

The right is setting an impeachment trap for the president, and the media are starting to play along.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, August 8, 2014

August 13, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Impeachment, Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP Loses Control Of Its Frankenstein Monster”: Speaker Boehner May Hold The Gavel, But He’s Not In Charge

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.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, July 30, 2014

July 31, 2014 Posted by | House Republicans, Impeachment, John Boehner | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“You Don’t Bring A Lawsuit To A Gunfight”: It’s Clear Republicans Have Found Yet Another Area For Intra-Party Arguing

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has heard members of his party call for President Obama’s impeachment for reasons that are unclear, but yesterday, he made clear that he’s not on board.

When asked Wednesday by NBC News what he thought about the failed vice presidential nominee and half-term Alaska governor’s demand that Congress remove Obama from office, the Ohio Republican said, “I disagree.”

Boehner is leading a charge to sue the Obama administration over what he sees as an abuse of executive power, but the speaker has said the lawsuit is not a step toward impeachment.

Got it. The House Speaker is prepared to file a lawsuit against the president for reasons Boehner can’t explain, but presidential impeachment isn’t part of the House Republican leadership’s plan.

So, does that put the matter to rest? Not yet, it doesn’t.

Former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) told Fox News, “You don’t bring a lawsuit to a gunfight and there’s no room for lawyers on our front lines.” (One hopes that Palin was speaking metaphorically and that she doesn’t actually see political disagreements with the White House as a “gunfight.”) The comments came on the heels of a written piece in which the Alaska Republican said conservative voters should “vehemently oppose any politician” who “hesitate[s] in voting for articles of impeachment.”

What we’re left with is the latest wedge dividing the party. It’s not yet a litmus test for the right, but four months before the 2014 midterms, it’s clear Republicans have found yet another area for intra-party arguing.

The Hill ran an interesting piece yesterday noting that much of the disagreement is about tactics, not ideology.

Staunch House conservatives are quashing calls for President Obama’s impeachment.

They argue an impeachment trial would be a doomed effort, with a Democratic Senate, that could hurt Republicans in the midterm elections.

For those who see the far-right impeachment crusade as silly, this may seem reassuring, but I’d like to pause to note a relevant detail: rank-and-file GOP lawmakers aren’t balking at impeachment because it’s dumb and unnecessary; they’re balking because they doubt it’ll advance their broader political goals.

The piece in The Hill is filled with quotes from House Republicans who are sympathetic to the idea of impeachment, but who worry about the electoral consequences and/or have no hopes that the Senate would remove Obama from office.

I emphasize this because, at least so far, I haven’t seen any GOP lawmaker say something like, “I disagree with impeachment because the president hasn’t committed an impeachable offense.” For much of the Republican Party, that Obama is guilty of serious wrongdoing is apparently a foregone conclusion, for reasons only they understand.

Byron York, meanwhile, suggested yesterday that the Speaker, arguably the top Republican official in the federal government, may ultimately have to simply declare whether impeachment is on or off the table. It’s what Nancy Pelosi did in 2006, and it’s what Boehner may have to do in 2014.

That sounds about right, though it’s worth remembering that the weak Speaker isn’t necessarily the final word on the subject. As we talked about the other day, the Speaker didn’t want to create a debt-ceiling crisis, but the far-right insisted and Boehner went along. The Speaker didn’t want a government shutdown, but the far-right insisted and Boehner went along. The Speaker didn’t want to hold several dozen “repeal Obamacare” votes, but the far-right insisted and Boehner went along. The Speaker didn’t want to kill immigration reform, but the far-right insisted and Boehner went along.

Now the Speaker is cool to impeachment. Whether others in his party care about Boehner’s preferences remains to be seen.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 10, 2014

July 11, 2014 Posted by | Impeachment, John Boehner, Sarah Palin | , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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