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5 reasons people are suddenly talking about Obama being impeached

Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner lashed out in response to growing media chatter about Republicans potentially impeaching President Obama. "We have no plans to impeach the president. We have no future plans," he said, according to The Hill. The recent media emphasis of the issue, Boehner said, is "all a scam started by Democrats at the White House."

Boehner's absolutely right that Democrats have been gleefully touting the specter of impeachment in fundraising appeals — the DCCC raised over $2 million from such emails in recent days. The issue is advantageous for Democrats — it portrays the GOP as extreme, it changes the subject from Obama's unpopularity, and it helps give liberal voters a reason to turn out this fall.

Yet it's ludicrous to pretend impeachment talk is a White House-invented "scam," as this tweet shows:


In reality, the impeachment talk has been stoked over a months-long period by conservative voters, media figures, and several House Republicans. Among them, there's no consensus on what, particularly, Obama should be impeached for, as you can tell from this timeline by Philip Bump, which lists many different possibilities that have been floated. But it's clear that the Democrats now talking impeachment have come late to the party.

1) Several House Republicans have said their constituents ask them about impeachment constantly — and that a majority in the House would probably vote to impeach


(Jason Andrew/Getty)

  • Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA): "He's just absolutely ignoring the Constitution, and ignoring the laws and ignoring the checks and balances. The problem is, what do you do? For those that say impeach him for breaking the laws or bypassing the laws - could that pass in the House? It probably could. Is the majority of the American people in favor of impeaching the president? I'm not sure."
  • Rep. Blake Fahrenthold (R-TX): "You tie into a question I get a lot: ‘If everyone's so unhappy with the president's done, why don't you impeach him?'" I'll give you a real frank answer about that: If we were to impeach the president tomorrow, you could probably get the votes in the House of Representatives to do it. But it would go to the Senate and he wouldn't be convicted."
  • Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA): "Not a day goes by when people don't talk to us about impeachment. I don't know what rises to that level yet, but I know that there's a mounting frustration that a lot of people are getting to and I think Congress is going to start looking at it very seriously."

2) Prominent conservative media figures have stoked the fire


(TJ Kirkpatrick/Getty)

Several popular conservative media figures either truly believe that Obama should be impeached, or are willing to tell their audience they believe that in order to sell books or get attention. These include:

  • Andrew McCarthy, a former DOJ prosecutor and National Review columnist, who just wrote a book called "Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama's Impeachment." In it, he argues that Obama should be impeached, but that the American people have to be won over first.
  • Talk radio host Glenn Beck, who said last year, "I personally am calling to impeach the President of the United States," because Obama's assistance to Syrian rebels was "treason." (Lately, Beck has changed his tune.)
  • Matt Drudge runs one of the highest-trafficked conservative sites on the internet and, as mentioned above, on Tuesday his lead story was "Surrender: Boehner rules out impeachment."
  • Former Congressman Allen West, who wrote last month that the House should file articles of impeachment.
  • Former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has played the biggest role in creating the current media frenzy. "The many impeachable offenses of Barack Obama can no longer be ignored. If after all this he's not impeachable, then no one is," she wrote earlier this month. She's continued to make the argument since. (In a strange coincidence, just days ago Palin announced that she'd launch a new online news network, the Sarah Palin Channel.)

3) Most GOP voters are already on board


poll from CNN/ORC shows that 57 percent of Republican voters supporting impeachment. Another, from YouGov, found 68 percent of GOP voters in support. Now, the importance of this shouldn't be exaggerated. These results are similar to how many Democrats supported impeaching President Bush in 2006 — and obviously, that didn't happen. But when House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi took impeachment "off the table" in 2006, people could believe her. In contrast:

4) Boehner has repeatedly proven unable to control his caucus


(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

Shortly after the 2010 midterms, Speaker-elect Boehner told the New Yorker that he'd "educate members" about why it's necessary to raise the debt ceiling, and said "this is going to be probably the first really big adult moment" for the new GOP majority. Months later, the House GOP forced a high-stakes showdown over the issue, and took the US within days of a default. By early 2013, it seemed Boehner had finally gotten control of his party — but later that year, despite his warnings, they shut down the federal government to try to force the defunding of Obamacare. Is impeachment really self-evidently more extreme than risking a debt default or shutting down the government?

5) Obama's immigration executive order hasn't yet come out


(Alex Wong/Getty)

The president is currently planning executive action to temporarily legalize the status of many unauthorized immigrants. It isn't yet clear how far he'll go, but the Associated Press reports that his orders could apply to "potentially millions" of people. If Obama does this, the GOP backlash could be quite severe. Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who's particularly outspoken on this issue, told Breitbart News the other day that if Obama does this, "We need to bring impeachment hearings immediately," and predicted that a majority of House Republicans would be "activated" to consider impeachment. For the White House's part, senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said on Friday that the immigration action would "certainly up the likelihood that they'll contemplate impeachment." Boehner might think his current lawsuit over Obamacare's employer mandate will satisfy the right, but — as with the debt ceiling and government shutdown — an uproar over executive action could prove too difficult for him to control.