Boehner's impeachment trap: How the speaker set himself up for embarrassment

By suing Obama, Boehner tied himself to the pro-impeachment crazies -- and the White House won't let anyone forget

Published July 28, 2014 3:41PM (EDT)

Michele Bachmann, John Boehner, Steve King                                                      (Reuters/Jeff Haynes/AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Reuters/Brian Frank)
Michele Bachmann, John Boehner, Steve King (Reuters/Jeff Haynes/AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Reuters/Brian Frank)

If there’s one thing the White House wants you to know these days, it’s that they’re really, very, quite concerned – one might even say “perturbed” – by the increasing likelihood that House Republicans will impeach President Obama. They’re anxious, they say, that so many people are laughing off IMPEACHMENT when the possibility of Republicans filing ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT and the Senate holding an IMPEACHMENT trial to see if the president will be IMPEACHED is very real.

Which is to say that the administration really wants everyone to be talking about how Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans could end up impeaching the president. White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer spoke to reporters last Friday and, according to HuffPo’s Sam Stein, “float[ed] the prospect of impeachment without much, if any, prodding.”

"I think impeachment is a very serious thing that has been bandied about by the recent Republican vice presidential nominee and others in a very unserious way," said Pfeiffer. "And no one has even made any allegation of anything that would be within six universes from what is generally considered in that space."

Later that day, White House press secretary Josh Earnest got in on the act, telling reporters that of course it could happen; no less a personage than Sarah Palin had called for it!

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Does the White House really think Obama will be impeached? Maybe, but this sudden display of very public hand-wringing over impeachment is a fairly obvious attempt to take all the impeachment talk coming from the fringier elements within the party and dump it squarely on John Boehner’s head.

Two polls released late last week show that the politics of impeachment are, as one would expect, terrible for Republicans. CNN asked respondents whether they felt “President Obama should be impeached and removed from office” and, by a 2-to-1 margin, they said “no.” Fox News also polled the impeachment question and achieved a similar result: 36 percent in favor of impeachment, 61 percent against. What’s notable about the Fox poll is how they asked the question:

Do you favor or oppose impeaching President Obama for exceeding his authority under the Constitution by failing to enforce some laws and changing other laws on his own -- or for any other reason?

"For any other reason." Just think of something, whatever strikes your fancy. That question was clearly framed to maximize the number of pro-impeachment responses – it presents as a given that Obama is “exceeding his authority” – and they still couldn’t break the mid-30s.

So nobody really wants to impeach President Obama except Sarah Palin and maybe a National Review contributor or two. What does this have to do with John Boehner? Ordinarily, nothing. But Boehner, in his infinite political wisdom, set himself up to shoulder all this impeachment criticism when he announced that he was going to sue the president over his alleged abuses of executive power.

More than a few pundits and observers have theorized that Boehner’s lawsuit is a “dress-rehearsal” of sorts for a real-deal impeachment of the president. It’s a logical inference to make; Boehner has cast his lawsuit as necessary to protect the integrity of the Constitution, which is under attack by the president. If the suit fails, he’s kind of left himself nowhere to go except impeachment. He’s essentially already made the case for it, arguing that something must be done to protect the Constitution “before it’s too late.”

Boehner set his own trap, and now the White House is happily snapping it shut. “I think that Speaker Boehner, by going down this path of this lawsuit,” Pfeiffer said on Friday, “has opened the door to Republicans possibly considering impeachment at some point in the future.” Boehner’s lawsuit is already generally unpopular – 57 percent of Americans oppose it, according to CNN’s poll – and the opportunity to tie Sarah Palin to the speaker’s legal misadventure is just icing.

All of this has put Boehner in the awkward position of accusing the White House of playing “political games” during a time of crisis. According to Boehner spokesman Michael Steel:

We have a humanitarian crisis at our border, and the White House is making matters worse with inattention and mixed signals. 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.

That’s a galling statement for Boehner’s office to put out, seeing as the House Republican caucus is (once again) divided and paralyzed on legislation to address the border crisis, but will in all likelihood easily pass the bill authorizing his ridiculous lawsuit against Obama.

But Boehner is absolutely correct that the White House is playing “political games” with the notion of impeachment. And he clearly doesn’t want to play because he knows it’s a game he’ll lose. That’s amusing, given that he’s the one who made the first move.

By Simon Maloy

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