Articles

Democrats Try The Impeachment Ploy

July 30, 2014

You have to give a tip of the hat to America's Cynic-in-Chief. Every time you think he has scraped bottom, he sinks still lower.

Take President Obama's most recent political gambit. Knowing Democrats cannot win the midterms on his record and having long ago foregone a positive agenda, Mr. Obama and his party are now claiming in every conceivable setting that Republicans will impeach him if the GOP wins this fall.

First lady Michelle Obama led off this attack at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser last Thursday in Chicago, warning that if Democrats lose this November, there will be more "talk about impeachment."

That was apparently too subtle. So at a breakfast with reporters the next morning, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer raised the topic, accusing Speaker John Boehner of having "opened the door to Republicans pursuing impeachment at some point in the future."

Later that day at an Ohio lunch with the National Urban League, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, said of impeachment, "That's what Republicans have told us . . . they'll do."

About the same time White House press secretary Josh Earnest said "senior members" and "prominent voices" in the GOP were calling for impeachment. Asked about Mr. Boehner's Tuesday declaration that impeachment was off the table, Mr. Earnest suggested that the speaker was lying.

On Sunday House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi joined the chorus in a CNN appearance. Without prompting, she declared that Republicans were "on a path to impeach the president."

On Tuesday, at breakfast with reporters, the Democratic Congressional Committee chairman, Rep. Steve Israel of New York, said the Republican election message was "impeach, impeach, impeach."

All this is complete and utter nonsense.

The House would need to launch an impeachment effort, yet Mr. Boehner said this week that the House has "no plans to impeach the president" and "no future plans" either. On Tuesday he called it "a scam started by Democrats at the White House." No sane person believes that even after the midterms there will be the necessary 67 votes in the Senate to remove Mr. Obama, even if the House voted to impeach him.

So why are Democrats—led by the Obama White House—incessantly raising impeachment? First, it fattens Democratic bank accounts. Mr. Israel breathlessly informed reporters that his committee raised $1 million online Monday using the impeachment threat and $2.1 million in a four-day period.

In June 2008, 12 House Democrats—including committee and subcommittee chairmen and close allies of Mrs. Pelosi—introduced a bill to impeach President George W. Bush. Imagine the outrage if then-first lady Laura Bush, White House press secretary Dana Perino, House Minority Leader John Boehner and Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan had used the occasion to raise campaign funds. And it's worth reiterating: There is no such bill today.

Second, impeachment talk motivates a lethargic Democratic base, worn-out and embarrassed by Mr. Obama's incompetence and lack of leadership. Mr. Israel admitted impeachment talk is "energizing our base."

Democratic strategists are especially concerned over lassitude about the fall elections in minority communities. So members of the Congressional Black Caucus took to the House floor Monday night to attack the "GOP march towards impeachment." And in a ploy to motivate Hispanic voters, Mr. Pfeiffer alleged Republicans would impeach Mr. Obama if he issued an executive order allowing millions of illegal immigrants to stay in the country without threat of deportation, as news reports suggest the president is contemplating.

Third, impeachment threats hurt Republicans with independents, a group critical to victory this fall. Today, independents are inclined to favor Republicans by an 11-point margin, according to a July 22 Fox News Poll, and 59% disapprove of Mr. Obama's performance. Yet in a July 20 CNN/ORC poll, 63% of independents oppose impeachment.

Finally, talk of impeachment diverts attention from everything else. Every moment spent discussing impeachment is a moment not spent discussing issues that hurt Democrats, such as ObamaCare, the weak recovery, the border crisis, the nation's growing debt and the world's increasingly dangerous condition.

Mr. Obama is counting on Republican allies to help gin up the specter of impeachment. It would be nice if Republican backbenchers desperate to appear on cable TV shows, and conservative celebrities seeking website hits, would resist the temptation to become useful stooges for the president by insisting that impeachment is a real possibility.

Earlier this month, Mr. Pfeiffer told Politico that "Impeachment is obviously a very serious topic being bandied about in an unserious way by unserious people." A week of the White House and its allies raising fears of an unnecessary Constitutional crisis show how right Mr. Pfeiffer was.

A version of this article appeared July 31, 2014, in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline Democrats Try The Impeachment Ploy and online at WSJ.com.

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