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October 22, 2014

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None dare call it impeachment

Let’s talk about something cheerful. How about impeachment?

Hey, it’s been a depressing month for news. If you want to look on the bright side, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.

The possibility of actual impeachment is not something that keeps Barack Obama up at night. Modern history suggests there’s nothing Congress could do that the American public would hate more. Yet, impeachment talk has been bounding around the Republican right for ages. The South Dakota Republican Party passed a resolution calling for impeachment at their annual convention this year. (We all know the famous saying: “As South Dakota goes, so goes North Dakota.”) Sarah Palin brings up impeachment virtually every day. Some members of Congress use it to energize the crazy base.

For instance, Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida once posted a list of arguments for impeachment on his campaign website. I am mentioning this in part because it’s always fun to write “Ted Yoho.” Also because I don’t think I’ve ever had an opportunity to note that during his previous election season, Ted Yoho told a church group that he wished the right to vote was limited to property owners.

The Democrats recently started picking up the impeachment banner in the form of pretending to take the Republican threats seriously. White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said it would be “foolish to discount the possibility.” Democratic fundraisers sent out warnings of impending impeachment danger to their own base and were tickled by the enthusiastic response.

Now, Republican leaders are desperately trying to change the subject. House Speaker John Boehner called impeachment talk “a scam started by Democrats at the White House.” Karl Rove claimed Obama was trying to create a “constitutional crisis where none exists.”

“Do you think anyone in Washington in the GOP is serious about impeachment?” demanded radio host Glenn Beck. “Do you think one person? Have you spoken to one person? No one. So who wants it? The president does.” Actually, as Kendall Breitman pointed out in Politico, Beck had called for impeachment about a year earlier.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, the majority party was busy showing the nation its serious side by voting to sue Obama for violating the Constitution. Look, everybody has their own way of demonstrating that they’re sticking to the business at hand. Republicans are upset about the president’s attempt to deal with problems by executive order when Congress fails to address them with legislation. Obama’s record when it comes to executive orders is actually rather paltry compared with some of his Republican predecessors. Nevertheless, the Republicans have many, many complaints, all of which involve mention of the Founding Fathers.

You could not help but suspect that if Boehner had it to do all over again, he’d never have brought this idea up. Democrats cheerfully urged a really, really long debate on the subject, but the Republican-dominated Rules Committee decided that the whole thing should be dispatched with as quickly as possible. So fast, in fact, that it gave the lawsuit against the president the same debate time as a bill on deregulating pesticides.

The Republicans focused on — yes! — the Founding Fathers. It was, said Rep. Candice Miller of Michigan, a battle against “tyranny, Mr. Speaker. Tyranny.” She is the leader of the Committee on House Administration, the only woman to lead a House committee under the current leadership. We will not dwell on the fact that Miller’s committee is basically in charge of housekeeping.

Meanwhile, the Democrats kept bringing up the I-word. “I sincerely believe that you are trying to set the stage for a despicable impeachment proceeding,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina. Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, the House Rules chairman, denied that suing the president was a step on the slippery slope to impeachment. He did that by defending the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, which was, of course, so exceedingly successful that Clinton now is the most popular individual in the nation except perhaps for Boo the World’s Cutest Dog and the hamster that eats tiny burritos.

Rather than suing the president for everything he’s ever done, the Republicans tried to improve their legal prospects by picking a particular executive order. They settled on the one postponing enforcement of part of Obamacare that requires businesses to provide health coverage for their employees. “Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change?” Boehner demanded.

“Not a single one of them voted for the Affordable Care Act,” said Louise Slaughter, the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee. “They spent $79 million holding votes to kill it. And now they’re going to sue him for not implementing it fast enough.”

We will look back on this moment in Washington as The Week That Irony Died.

Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.

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