Obama, a Republican Congress, and Impeachment

Some Republicans are eager to impeach the President. Some are so eager that they go on the record saying that impeachment would probably pass the House. Representatives Barletta (R-LA), Farenthold (R-TX), and Senator Cruz (R-TX) say that the only obstacle is the Democratic Senate, which would not convict the President. The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart took this a step further and argued Republican control of the Senate could result in President Obama’s impeachment.

Regardless of who controls the Senate, the rationale presented by Cruz, Barletta, and Farenthold makes no sense. In no immediate future will Republicans control enough votes – two-thirds of the Senate – to remove the president from office. In order to reach the 66 vote threshold, Republicans need to win every single Senate election in November. Democrats may lose the Senate majority. However, no one believes Democrats will lose every single Senate race. More reasonable forecasts suggest Republicans will gain 5-6 seats. That is enough for a majority but not close to the amount necessary to remove Obama from office. In sum, there is no situation in which “not having the votes” is the reason impeachment has not been pursued.

However, a Republican Senate majority may embolden impeachment supporters for a different reason. With the majority Republicans could force a vote in the Senate. On the Senate floor, the majority leader has the right of first recognition. This precedent is critical because it is the sole right allowing the majority to control the Senate agenda. It gives the majority the ability to schedule votes, debate, and other aspects of day-to-day operation in the Senate. If Republicans gained the majority, their majority leader (McConnell, assuming he is reelected) could force the Senate to vote on impeachment even if they knew it would fail. However, as I mentioned before, there is virtually no scenario where Republicans pick up the 15-16 votes necessary to remove President Obama from office.

So after this whirlwind of options we end up back where we started. The impeachment decision boils down to one political question: would impeaching the President help or hurt the party in the next election? Would a symbolic vote, which would not result in removal from office, pay electoral dividends or alienate moderate voters?

There is a reasonable argument that the Republican Party, with a House majority insulated from electoral pain through a combination of safe districts packed with conservative constituents, would not hesitate to impeach Obama. He has been enemy number one since he stepped into office.

However, that begs the question: why haven’t they already impeached Obama? The House could impeach the President now and get the same result that they would get after the 2014 Elections regardless of Senate control.

The most likely answer is some form of, “last time we tried this it was a disaster.” Clinton’s impeachment backfired badly on Republicans in the 1998 midterms. It contributed to a loss of seats and the resignation of then Speaker Newt Gingrich. While there are likely several Members in the conference eager to impeach the president, the leaders in both chambers, who witnessed impeachment first-hand in 1998, are almost certainly opposed to it.

In either case, Senate control is almost entirely irrelevant to impeaching Obama. Regardless of the Senate majority, in neither case would Republicans “have the votes” to remove Obama from office.  The constitutional super-majority requirement prevents a majority from taking such brash action. So whether Republicans control the Senate or not does not get them any closer to removing Obama from office. It is all based on a political calculation; one that the leaders appear eager to avoid.

Josh Huder is a Senior Fellow at the Government Affairs Institute

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