Republicans tentatively unfurl the impeachment flag [Commentary]

Some Republicans in Congress, having wasted the 2012 election trying to get rid of President Obama with Obamacare as their bludgeon, are now talking about crippling him in the 2014 midterm cycle by crying impeachment.

With Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's ambition of making Obama "a one-term president" dashed in 2012, other GOP congressmen are also talking of trying to remove him on grounds that he is exceeding his presidential powers, on issues ranging from immigration to the minimum wage to gay rights and Obamacare.


At the same time, House Speaker John Boehner threatens him with a lawsuit alleging that in resorting to executive branch authority to delay or defer certain legislative mandates, Mr. Obama "has not faithfully executed the laws" as stipulated in Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution.

Nr. Boehner says specifically that "this is not about impeachment." Instead he calls for a three-judge panel to decide whether Congress has the legal standing to bring it. Conservative columnist George Will has called the approach better than "the cumbersome and divisive blunderbuss process of impeachment."


It's obvious why he so states. Only two presidents have been impeached through the constitutional process, wherein the House hears the allegations and, if they vote for impeachment, the Senate then votes on whether to convict. In both cases, of Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998-99, the Senate voted to acquit; against Johnson, the vote fell only one short of the two-thirds majority for conviction.

As for Mr. Clinton, he needed only one more vote than one third for acquittal. Many Democrats voted to save him while figuratively holding their noses over the sordid sex scandal that undid him. Later he crassly told a newspaper editors' conference he was proud to have fought the impeachment "because I think we saved the Constitution of the United States," not just his presidency.

With the Democrats now holding a clear Senate majority with 55 seats, any impeachment charges against Mr. Obama passed by the Republican-controlled House today obviously would be rejected in the other body, without any gesture of reservation by fellow Democrats.

Success of impeachment as a political strategy by the Republicans in this fall's congressional elections would require not only a GOP takeover of the Senate, but gaining the two-thirds to convict -- 67 Senate seats, or a pickup of 22. With only 21 Democratic seats up for grabs, even a Republican sweep would leave the party one short in the next Congress, assuming all remaining Democratic senators would stand by Mr. Obama.

So the latest chatter about getting rid of the sitting president for whatever reason, with only two years remaining in his second term, is no more than thunder and lightning, signifying nothing.

Just as the Republicans in Congress have spun their wheels for the last four years pledging to "repeal and replace Obamacare" and coming up empty, many of them are focusing on short-circuiting a man they are convinced is leading the country to ruin at home and abroad.

Instead of concentrating on a more positive agenda of their own for the next two years and if they win back the White House in 2016, Republicans are struggling to put their house in order. The fight between the GOP establishment and the tea party insurgency has clearly not been resolved in this year's congressional primaries, and its 2016 presidential leadership is so far a headless horseman.

None of the hopefuls now dutifully showing up at the various state cattle shows seems to have the star power, let alone a new catchphrase to fire up the imagination of the Republican faithful the way the party's last winner, "Dubya" Bush, did in 2000 with "compassionate conservative."


What's more, favorite target Barack Obama will not be on the ballot in 2016, and Hillary Hilton looms as a formidable Democratic opponent with strong party support behind her, even before she discloses whether she will run. It would seem the Grand Old Party would be better off emulating what so many Democrats are already doing -- getting "ready for Hillary" -- or hoping for a less formidable foe.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is