Like Clockwork, Impeachment Talk Surfaces — But Action's Unlikely
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
When a U.S. president gets deep into his second term, there are certain things that you can count on. Political victories are tougher to come by, the battle scars are deeper. Public approval falls and the opposing party looks for new ways to gain some advantage. And in the modern presidency, you can count on one more thing - calls for the president to be impeached, even when there's little or no chance of success. As NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea reports, the Obama White House is no different.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Talk of impeachment is once again swirling around. And while the general public is not very interested in the idea, a solid majority of Republicans say they support taking such a step. Most prominent among them are those who do not hold public office, like Rush Limbaugh.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")
RUSH LIMBAUGH: This guy needs to be impeached. We impeach Nixon for less than this kind of stuff.
GONYEA: Limbaugh points to the IRS scrutiny of tea party groups. Then there's Sarah Palin, who sees White House immigration policy as an impeachable offense. She was on Fox News calling for Congress to act.
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SARAH PALIN: The one tool they have are articles of impeachment. Let's get going on that.
GONYEA: The list of GOP grievances also includes the prisoner swap, tied to the release of U.S. soldier Bowe Berghdal and the presidents use of executive power. Still, it's not a path that Republicans actually in Congress have pushed. It's not even clear what legal case they would make and there was this curt response from Speaker of the House John Boehner recently, when asked about Palin's call for impeachment.
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JOHN BOEHNER: I disagree.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What about the folks in your conference room calling for - privately talking about impeachment?
BOEHNER: I disagree.
GONYEA: Instead, Boehner offered this - filing a lawsuit against the president. Now, some recent history from late in the second term of President George W. Bush. Here's now former Congressman Dennis Kucinich on the House floor in 2008.
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DENNIS KUCINICH: Resolved that President George W. Bush be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors and that the following articles of impeachment be exhibited to the United States Senate.
GONYEA: Liberal Democrats called for Bush's impeachment over the Iraq War and other issues, even though they had no chance of success. They too wanted to make a point. Of course nine years earlier, President Bill Clinton was impeached by House Republicans, after the revelations of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. But Clinton survived, saw his popularity rise and Republicans suffered a political troubles as a result. It's that history that Speaker Boehner is very aware of. But political scientist George Edwards of Texas A&M says today's impeachment advocates ignore the lessons of the Clinton years. He says it's all part of our deeply polarized politics.
GEORGE EDWARDS: And when one side sees the views of the other side as not only wrong but illegitimate, it provides grounds in their mind for an extreme measure such as impeaching the president.
GONYEA: And while impeachment talk might help fire up the Republican base in some places, there's also a chance it'll motivate the president's supporters who might otherwise not be as enthusiastic about voting in this election year, especially in some states with tight U.S. Senate races. Further, professor Andra Gillespie says African-American voters are no doubt watching the talk of impeachment very closely.
ANDRA GILLESPIE: And there's been a lot of theorizing that blacks rally around the president in large part because of this perception that some of the opposition towards him is racially motivated.
GONYEA: In fact, there are plenty of conservative Republicans warning about handing the Democrats an issue during the midterms. But that doesn't sway those pushing Obama's impeachment, even if they know it won't happen. Call it rhetorical impeachment. It's a tactic that's probably here to stay, but it's a far cry from the seriousness of the real thing. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.