Pfeiffer: Executive Actions Could Spur GOP on Impeachment

Pfeiffer: Executive Actions Could Spur GOP on Impeachment

By Alexis Simendinger - July 25, 2014

President Obama's senior adviser said Republicans might seriously weigh impeachment charges against the president, given their enthusiasm about suing him over his use of executive power.

“I think Speaker Boehner, by going down the path of this lawsuit, has opened the door to Republicans possibly considering impeachment in the future,” Dan Pfeiffer said Friday. “I would not discount that possibility.”

The president’s top White House political adviser said Washington pundits may have dismissed the assertion by former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin that action to impeach Obama is in order. But Pfeiffer said conservatives are building up a head of steam and are likely to sharply oppose executive actions Obama will announce after the summer on immigration.

“I think the president acting on immigration reform would certainly up the likelihood that they would contemplate impeachment at some point,” he said at a media roundtable sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

In June, the president tasked Jeh Johnson, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and Attorney General Eric Holder to vet executive options in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform legislation. They are to present ideas to Obama by summer’s end, and Pfeiffer foreshadowed that the president’s unilateral actions will capture national attention and rile the GOP.

“I suspect that will generate a particularly aggressive reaction by Republicans when we do that, perhaps one that exceeds all the executive actions we’ve taken to date,” he said.

It was not the first time Pfeiffer dropped the word “impeachment” into his conversations with reporters. While he argued that any such proceedings would be bad for the country and without merit, some political analysts believe the House GOP’s enthusiasm to sue Obama or in other ways de-legitimize his authority fuels Democratic fundraising and serves to galvanize Democratic voters, who may need a nudge to turn out for progressive House and Senate candidates come November.

Republican fundraising prospers, as well.

Boehner’s spokesman dismissed Pfeiffer’s impeachment talk as political blarney, noting that the House speaker publicly rejected the notion soon after Palin raised it.


"We have a humanitarian crisis at our border, and the White House is making matters worse with inattention and mixed signals,” Michael Steel, Boehner’s spokesman, said in a statement. “It is telling, and sad, that a senior White House official is focused on political games, rather than helping these kids and securing the border."


During his discussion with reporters, Pfeiffer said Congress will likely not take action on the president’s request for supplemental funding to address the migrant crisis at the border before departing for a month-long recess. He cited disagreements within and between the two parties and between the two chambers about how to proceed. 

“The House Republicans have decided they are going to head home for the month of August without passing the president’s supplemental request,” he said, noting the administration continues to try to work out a deal. House Republicans, in turn, point to the Senate and divisions among Democrats as a hurdle that has not been cleared by the White House.

The president’s adviser, who has served Obama since the 2008 presidential campaign, repeated the White House argument that navigating around Congress to adopt changes through executive heft is not the administration’s first choice, but rather a fallback in service to important policies.

The White House anticipated at the outset of the year that conservatives wouldn’t favor the president’s reliance on his “pen and phone,” he added, but the administration had not imagined a lawsuit that would challenge decisions akin to those exerted by Obama’s predecessors. The House next week will vote on whether to take the president to court.

“I don’t think that we presumed that they would sue the president, but in some ways that is a validation of the idea that the executive actions we’ve taken are far from the ‘small ball’ that some have accused them of being, but instead are so significant that the Republicans have taken the nearly unprecedented step [to] sue the president,” Pfeiffer said.

A lawsuit, he predicted, would just embolden the administration. While he declined to describe the actions Obama may make on immigration, Pfeiffer described the impact as potentially dramatic.

“We’re not at the end of the summer yet, but I think that will be a very important step, substantively, and I think a pretty important step if you look at the arc of the presidency and the politics of immigration,” he said.

Some lawmakers and immigration advocacy groups are urging the president to expand the special status he granted in 2012 to the children of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States years ago by their parents. They want Obama to grant similar protection from deportation to their parents and close relatives.

“The Republican Party is going to have a choice,” Pfeiffer told reporters. “Are they going to go back and pass comprehensive immigration reform, which would mean the president would rip up whatever executive action he does [take] the day they pass that? Or are they going to basically set themselves up for the next 2½ years here, to be arguing to elect a Republican in order to deport all these people? And that will be a really interesting question about how to handle that.”

If Congress fails to make strides toward comprehensive immigration changes in the next few years, the White House envisions a sharpened political message that Democrats can convey to voters in the wake of Obama’s efforts. “We think we’re making a very real difference, and setting up a contrast with a Republican Congress, one that’s the least productive in history,” Pfeiffer added.

The president’s adviser, who said he has no plans to leave the White House, underscored his optimism that Democrats will hold the Senate after November’s midterm elections, noting the outlook brightened in recent weeks, even as some media accounts said otherwise.

Maintaining the majority in the upper chamber “requires a lot of work,” he said. “We have good candidates, and I expect the president to do what he can to help them.”

Republicans, he argued, have made some mistakes in candidate selection.

“The Democrats’ position in the House and the Senate strengthened in the last few weeks here, and somewhat significantly,” Pfeiffer said, citing his conversations with the campaigns and other experts working with the Democratic committees. He said Democratic incumbents are holding their own in red states, and he specifically mentioned Alaska, Arkansas and North Carolina.

Asked how the midterm outcome may impact the 2016 presidential contest, Pfeiffer noted that many of the tough 2014 races “are not happening in states that will be determinative in the presidential race.” But gubernatorial races are important to Democrats going forward, in part because of redistricting decisions and leadership on policies migrating from the states, including Medicaid expansion and votes to raise state minimum wages.

“I think that Democrats going forward have to be as focused as Republicans are on state legislature races and governors’ races, for that very reason,” he said. “That needs to be a real focus for us.”

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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