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Amid Impeachment Talk, Boehner Steers Clear

Amid Impeachment Talk, Boehner Steers Clear

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - July 9, 2014

A loaded term is being bandied about in conservative circles of late, quickening the pulses of many opponents of President Obama. But some in the GOP warn that the word could derail Republicans' political fortunes this year.

The word is “impeachment.”

House Speaker John Boehner quickly swatted away the idea on Wednesday.

“I disagree,” he told reporters when asked about calls from Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and GOP vice presidential nominee, for Obama’s impeachment.

What about similar calls from some Republican members of Congress? “I disagree,” the speaker repeated.

Boehner knows well the consequences of overreaching and how impeachment of a president can be politically harmful to the party seeking it -- a la Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton in 1998. So he considers it in Republicans’ best interest to dismiss such a chorus before it becomes too loud or insistent, despite the high level of frustration among conservatives with this president.

Over the next few weeks, Boehner and his House conference will instead lay out, deliberate upon, mark up and eventually vote on legislation to authorize a lawsuit against Obama for his use of executive action. The speaker has not yet outlined the suit’s particulars, instead asserting simply that the president “has circumvented the American people and their elected representatives through executive action.”

The planned suit has garnered criticism from Democrats and some Republicans for being politically motivated and a waste of time and energy. Obama called it a “stunt” and others say it aims only to rile constituencies fed up with what they complain is an “imperial presidency.”

But given the growing calls for impeachment, Boehner’s legal pursuit may be more of a shield meant to placate critics of the administration while fending off cries for more politically dangerous -- and ultimately unserious -- actions.

“The lawsuit is basically intended to take a look at some particular actions and have the court define what are the limits in terms of executive power,” said David Winston, a longtime pollster for the House GOP.  Given Boehner’s responsibility as speaker, he must consider “what is the best way to resolve this constitutional question. Is it through impeachment or is it through the courts?”

The questions surrounding the president’s use of executive action “is really a constitutional question the courts need to work through in terms of defining what are the limits of executive power,” Winston added.

The call for the lawsuit has almost been a boon to Democrats, who claimed a highly successful fundraising drive the day it was announced. The president seems to relish the suit threat too. “They have a plan to sue me for taking executive actions that are within my authority while they do nothing," he said in Colorado on Wednesday. "I have a better idea: They should do something.”

Democrats wasted no time seizing upon Palin’s comments. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who quashed calls among her caucus for the impeachment of George W. Bush in 2006, emailed supporters with the subject line: “Sarah Palin.”

“Yesterday, Sarah Palin called for President Obama’s impeachment,” Pelosi wrote in a fundraising email. “Usually, I’d completely ignore this, but she’s not alone. Next week, Speaker Boehner will launch a three-week show trial leading up to a frivolous lawsuit against President Obama.”

Democrats are also putting the impeachment question to Republican congressional candidates -- though Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst wasn’t waiting to be asked: She floated the idea of impeachment back in January (she walked-back those comments this week, however). Her opponent, Rep. Bruce Braley, can't claim the high road either. He voted twice in 2007 to support the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Use of the I-word may not be coming at the best time for proponents: The public thinks Congress is not getting anything done and approval of the institution is at historic lows.

“Where the American people are is pretty simple: Fixing the American economy and getting job growth going again. That’s what they’re listening for,” Winston said.

That also why GOP House leaders begin nearly every weekly press conference by asking, “Where are the jobs?”

But Palin has stirred the pot. Citing the current immigration crisis at the border, Palin wrote in a Breitbart op-ed: “It’s time to impeach; and on behalf of American workers and legal immigrants of all backgrounds, we should vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment.”

On Fox News, she criticized Boehner’s approach.

 "You don’t bring a lawsuit to a gunfight, and there’s no room for lawyers on our front lines,” she said. (Former Rep. Allen West, however, sees the suit as a prelude to impeachment, according to a fundraising email he wrote.)

Though Palin isn’t a member of Congress, she does have a following and some endorsement power in campaigns.

Still, even some of the most conservative activists consider impeachment a bad idea.

“As I have written several times, impeachment would be crazy,” RedState Editor Erick Erickson wrote Wednesday. “I get the angst by some Republicans who want the President impeached. But it is crazy talk right now. There aren’t the votes and even if there were the votes it’d never make it through the Senate and would most assuredly scuttle our chances of taking the Senate. Impeachment is not an option. John Boehner is right to say so.”

And many members seem to be aware of the potential political fallout. “Someone had me on a list of stating I advocated impeachment of the President,” tweeted Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who could one day become the chairman of the House Oversight Committee. “I have not taken that position. I said it is simply on the table.”

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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