I cannot think of anything more disastrous for the Republican Party than an attempt to impeach the president. Yet there are scenarios being put forth, along with what I regard as a lot of irresponsibly loose talk, some of it getting ginned up by Democrats.

No, no Democrat I have heard about is arguing for impeachment. But the Democratic National Committee has cranked out at least one recent fundraising email in advance of the 2014 mid-term elections, an alarmist appeal for money to hold back a gathering barbarian tide bent on removing the president. The Daily Caller called it paranoid.

To put it in perspective, it’s just standard boiler plate paranoia designed to loosen contributor pockets. The more alarms raised, the more money flows. That’s the thinking, anyway.

What it does is prove to gullible loyalists that someone is working to “Preserve the American Republic as We Know and Love It.” Republicans chasing money say similar things, using the same generic ham-fisted language that money meisters must go to school somewhere to learn how to write. So I can excuse the DNC.

It is the Republican chattering going on that bothers me. This kind of talk is beyond normal partisanship.

Republicans received an early Christmas gift with the mess around the Affordable Health Care start up. It deflected sharp unhappiness over the GOP government shutdown. Right now, Republicans don’t have to do anything going into congressional elections except loop videos of administration folks in front of congressional committees. I have a special fondness for the clip with Kathleen Sebelius replying “whatever” when asked if the president in fact is the final figure responsible for administration decisions.

Here’s how president Obama can be impeached. The GOP retains the House of Representatives in 2014 with an improved majority and adopts articles of impeachment (templates exist).

The Senate, still with a Democrat majority would have to convict; very unlikely. Even if the 2014 elections produce a Republican Senate majority, the odds still favor a trial but not a conviction; two-thirds of the senators present must vote for conviction before the president is removed. There is no one who sees a two-thirds Republican majority in the GOP’s future.

Whether that will necessarily restrain House Republicans is unknown. But if it doesn’t, the only result I see is the president remaining in office and the GOP having put the nation through another political grinder.

Why is anyone in any case even contemplating a one-party impeachment? That is how Bill Clinton escaped removal from office during his impeachment trial; it was perceived as a partisan Republican move. The impeachment votes on two of four charges adopted against Bill Clinton found few Democrats in the House, and none in the Senate, for conviction.

Whatever the technical merits of the case against president Clinton, and they were not insignificant, the Republicans in the House failed to persuade enough of his supporters to attain bipartisan credibility for removal.

This was very unlike Richard Nixon’s experience. Though he escaped formal impeachment by resigning, his fellow Republican supporters in the House were persuaded. The House voted almost unanimously (404-4) to open impeachment hearings by the judiciary committee. The committee’s vote to approve the articles of impeachment included a majority of Republicans on the committee. The administration lapdog Republican congressman I had worked for told me afterward he was prepared to vote impeachment when it reached the floor. President Nixon’s resignation saved him the trouble.

I would be stunned if a decision from House Republicans would be viewed in any way but as in the same spirit as the impeachment of President Clinton, which is why the talk should stop. The impetuosity of House Republicans forcing government closure should not be repeated in impeachments efforts.

I am not forgetting that Democrats introduced resolutions to impeach George W. Bush when Nancy Pelosi was speaker. Whatever her feelings about it, she let nothing go forward. Good for her.

Russell E. Saltzman is dean of the Great Plains Mission District of the North American Lutheran Church, assistant pastor of St. Matthew’s Church in Riverside, Missouri, and an online homilist for the Christian Leadership Center at the University of Mary. His book Speaking of the Dead is nearing completion. His previous articles can be found here.

Become a fan of First Things on Facebook, subscribe to First Things via RSS, and follow First Things on Twitter.

Articles by Russell E. Saltzman

Loading...

Show 0 comments