Certain congressional Republicans and some colorful conservatives have been making threats about impeaching President Obama since the simultaneous revelations of IRS abuses and federal snooping on the press broke a couple weeks ago. These incidents have compounded the fallout over the Benghazi attacks of last year, with these three stories converging into a perfect storm of bad news, giving the president's enemies renewed motivation to impeach him.
Of course, congressional Republicans threatening to impeach the president isn’t exactly new. But in recent months, the threats seem to have gotten more serious, or at least more widespread. The question is, could Obama be impeached? As with any question of importance, the answer is complicated, and has to do with questions of law and history. And, like everything else in D.C., there are also political considerations involved.
The Constitution stipulates that a president may be impeached, and upon conviction, removed from office for "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and misdemeanors." While the meanings of treason and bribery are relatively clear, what constitutes a "high crime" or "misdemeanor" is debatable. That said, here are the three main "crimes" the president's critics are charging him with.
The Benghazi controversy stems from the release of internal government correspondence showing a disagreement between the CIA and the State Department over what information to release in the form of talking points to be used by then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice on the Sunday morning talk shows. It was revealed that there were at least a dozen versions of them considered before Rice, relying on the talking points, publicly and repeatedly claimed that the attacks, which killed the Libyan ambassador and three others, were a spontaneous response to a viral video offensive to Muslims. This was later shown to be false. It is alleged that the administration tried to cover up the incident as a terrorist attack to protect their chances during the 2012 election.
The problem with this argument is that it's more likely that the CIA and the State Department gave conflicting information in order to avoid blame. This is probably the least "scandally" of the three "scandals" that Obama has been charged with. The next two are potentially more serious.
When news broke that the Department of Justice had investigated members of the press to track down leaks and seizing phone records, both liberals and conservatives were outraged. Critics warned it could have "a chilling effect" on news media. Some even made allusions to Richard Nixon. But while the DoJ’s actions may have been heavy- handed, they were also probably legal. In this post-9/11 world, the executive branch has sweeping powers of surveillance, given to them by ... guess who? ... Congress.
IRS discrimination against conservative groups is the most potentially damaging scandal of the three. It has generated the most public interest as well as anger. And most importantly, if Obama were personally involved, it would certainly be an impeachable offense. One of the articles of impeachment leveled against Richard Nixon (he was never impeached because he resigned) had to do with use of the IRS against opponents. However, no evidence has emerged linking Obama to the IRS's actions.
None of this may stop Congressional Republicans. Because they have a majority in the House, they could vote to impeach Obama tomorrow and Democrats would be powerless to prevent it. But impeachment is only half the battle. To actually remove the president from office requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate. Since Democrats control the Senate, this would be next to impossible. And seeing as Republicans want to take the Senate in 2014, it would be very unwise for them to follow through on their threats, because the last time they did so, it backfired. All this can be summed up with an old piece of advice: Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.