By Mike Lillis - 07/29/14 06:00 AM EDT
Democrats are beating the impeachment drum in hopes it becomes a GOP liability and a boon for their party at the polls in November.
Republicans took a political pounding last fall when voters largely blamed them for the government shutdown, and Democrats hoped it was their silver bullet in the 2014 midterms.
But nearly a year later, polls still predict low Democratic turnout this fall as they try to hold onto the Senate and cut into Republicans’ House majority. That’s left party leaders searching for a shutdown sequel, and they’re trumpeting scattered GOP calls to impeach President Obama in an effort to energize the Democratic base — while attracting independents — ahead of the elections.
GOP leaders, however, have given no indication they intend to push an impeachment measure, with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) saying flatly this month that he opposes such a move.
But that’s done nothing to discourage Democrats, who are hyping the perceived threat if only for the opportunity to shoot it down. That strategy has only taken off since last Thursday, when House Republicans moved forward legislation to sue Obama for what they consider abuses of executive power.
Since then, the White House has warned that the lawsuit is just the first step toward impeachment; the Democrats’ campaign arm has launched a highly successful fundraising campaign to capitalize on the conservative impeachment push; members of the Congressional Black Caucus took to the House floor Monday to decry the perceived threat; and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is cataloging impeachment comments from GOP lawmakers in hopes they incite a backlash against the Republicans on the campaign trail.
“Are House Republicans really going to waste taxpayer dollars and precious time impeaching the President instead of focusing on issues of importance to Americans and jumpstarting the middle class?” Pelosi’s office asked Monday in an email blast.
Citing last October’s shutdown, a former Democratic leadership aide said the party’s concerns are more than just bluster.
“It’s not that they’re playing up that angle,” the aide said of the GOP, “these guys are actually crazy enough to do it.”
With that in mind, the aide added, the impeachment campaign is a reminder of “what [Republicans] would do if they get both houses of Congress.”
A Democratic strategist close to the White House said the Democrats’ focus on impeachment is both a political winner — “It shows not just our base but independents how fringe their base is” — and has practical implications because of Boehner’s struggles to manage his troops.
“Even if Boehner said no [to impeachment], history has proven he cannot control his caucus,” the strategist said.
Republicans seem well aware of Democrats’ strategy, though.
Despite calls from a handful of rank-and-file members, as well as national conservative figures such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), Boehner has made clear that he doesn’t support the impeachment push. And Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the incoming majority whip, recently accused the administration of concocting the impeachment threat simply to raise money and distract voters from what Republicans consider Obama’s dismal economic record.
“This might be the first White House in history that’s trying to start the narrative of impeaching their own president,” Scalise said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“The president isn’t solving ... problems. So, he wants to try to change the subject.”
Still, Scalise eluded repeated questions from Fox’s Chris Wallace about whether an impeachment push is “off the table,” which Democrats latched on to as more ammunition for press releases and fundraising pitches.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) launched an online fundraiser on the impeachment threat, and Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) accused GOP leaders of threatening “extreme measures ... to push their reckless partisan agenda.”
“Scalise just made it clear that impeachment is absolutely on the table for House Republicans,” Israel said in a statement.
The push has paid off — the DCCC revealed Monday it’s netted $2.1 million online since Thursday, the single greatest four-day haul this election cycle. That figure represents more than 114,000 donations and more than 22,000 first-time donors.
The National Republican Congressional Committee referred questions to Boehner’s office, which accused the White House of playing politics while ignoring “real issues.”
“Our country faces real issues, including a sluggish economy, a humanitarian crisis at the border, and the unraveling of President Obama’s foreign policy around the world,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in an email. “But it seems Washington Democrats — including at least one senior White House official — would rather focus on phony issues and political games.”
The reference was to White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer, who warned Friday that Boehner’s lawsuit sets the stage for impeachment proceedings.
DePaul University political scientist Michael Mezey predicted the Democrats’ focus on impeachment will have a much greater effect on fundraising than it will energizing voters directly.
“As long as the Republicans take no action toward impeachment, I doubt it will have any impact on turnout,” Mezey said Monday.
“Some of the more extreme members of the House Republican Caucus may want to move forward on impeachment,” he added. “Boehner will resist this and my sense is that his lawsuit against Obama was designed to head off any impeachment action.”
But some Democrats say GOP leaders haven’t been nearly aggressive enough in their opposition to impeachment to convince voters that such a measure isn’t possible down the line.
“There’s a big difference between [opposing impeachment] and actively going into the conference room and saying, ‘Stop this,’ ” said the former Democratic leadership aide. “That isn’t happening.”