She’s asking rhetorically, not egging him on. The obvious logistical problem, as many a Republican officeholder has noted when asked about this by an angry constituent, is that impeachment is DOA in the Senate as long as it’s controlled by Democrats. The House can force a Senate trial but what’s the use of that when we all know what the verdict will be? (For that reason, this question is better aimed at Boehner than at McConnell.) And no, retaking the Senate next year doesn’t solve the problem. You need two-thirds of the chamber to convict an impeached president; Republicans won’t be remotely close to 67 seats, no matter how big this year’s November wave is.
The political problem is that Republicans fear impeaching O would do more to hurt them than it would the president. Not only did Clinton weather the storm, so did his approval rating. If you’ve got a weak president in office like Obama who’s facing a debacle from his signature legislation between now and the next presidential election, why make any sudden moves to mess with that dynamic if you’re a Republican? They’re probably going to get a good result from SCOTUS on Obama’s NLRB power grab; if they want to push back against executive overreach, court battles might be fruitful high-publicity ways of doing it with minimal political risk — certain difficulties notwithstanding.
To solve their political problem, the GOP would have to convince a majority of the public (probably a big majority) that impeachment is warranted. But that’s the thing — even when the president’s guilty of encroaching on another branch’s powers or suspending parts of the law that are politically inconvenient to him, you’ll never find a majority of Americans willing to entertain a punishment as severe as removal from office for that. To make impeachment stick, you need to show that the president’s motives for acting were rotten and selfish, like Nixon’s; O, by contrast, always takes care to present his motives for ignoring Congress as civic-minded, something he does for the good of the people, not for himself. Tim Scott once suggested that Obama could be impeached if he tried to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally, but the public would never support that, I suspect. He’d simply say that he was driven to desperate measures to protect the country’s creditworthiness; at best you’d get a 50/50 split in public opinion on whether he should be punished, and I doubt the ratio would be even that good. Ron Paul once suggested that impeachment should be on the table for O’s drone strike on Anwar al-Awlaki, who was, after all, a U.S. citizen. O defended that by insisting he was acting to protect America from a particularly dangerous terrorist. I’d be surprised if you could get even 20 percent of the public angry enough to support impeachment over that one. A constitutionalist would wave his hand at all of the above and say that motives are irrelevant — if you violate due process or separation of powers, impeachment is an obvious remedy, however allegedly virtuous the motives. That’s what it means to follow the rule of law. How many constitutionalists are out there in the voting booth on election day, though? Fifteen percent of the electorate, maybe? Less?
Exit question: Will any big-name Republican pound the table for impeachment next year? Ted Cruz’s language about Obama’s lawlessness has been especially strong lately. He knows, of course, that the votes aren’t there in the Senate, but he knew they weren’t there for the “defund” effort either and he pushed that anyway. The key, then and now, was getting the House to act. O would survive but some conservatives would love Cruz for making the effort, which would be helpful to him when the primary campaign starts in 2015.
Join the conversation as a VIP Member