President Barack Obama’s promised executive actions on immigration are shaping up to put Speaker John Boehner in a bind between the passions of his conservative base and the GOP’s long-term viability as a national party.
Some staunch conservatives are hopping mad and already floating impeachment over it — but could that actually spur House GOP leaders to do it?
The White House insists it might. Democrats are giddily fundraising off the notion of imminent impeachment, which Boehner calls a “scam,” repeating that the House has no plans to go down that road. But the question political scientists and strategists are mulling is whether Obama’s executive move, which is expected to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation, could actually inflame the GOP base enough to push Boehner down that path.
“From my standpoint, if the president [enacts more executive actions], we need to bring impeachment hearings immediately before the House of Representatives. That’s my position and that’s my prediction,” Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told Breitbart.com over the weekend. King and other immigration-weary conservatives are already furious with the president for unilaterally granting temporary reprieve to young people brought to the country illegally as children.
Most House conservatives say they don’t want to bring up impeachment, at least for now. But 57 percent of national Republicans want Obama impeached, according to a CNN poll on Friday. A smattering of GOP figures, inside and outside Congress, have signaled some degree of sympathy with the idea. Over the weekend, incoming House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) refused to take the idea off the table.
“The zeal for impeachment among the radical forces has been building for some time, fueled by local talk radio demonization of Obama and by blogs and emails reinforcing the message. Boehner is smart enough and pragmatic enough to know that both the anti-immigration zeal and the impeachment fire are disastrous for the GOP,” said Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “How long he can damp down the latter, especially if Obama takes a series of executive steps on the border, deportations and other immigration issues, is hard to say. But I will be quite surprised if we do not see a very strong impeachment drive next year.”
So, how could Boehner respond if the cries grow louder?
Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, said most Republicans understand that impeachment is “not a serious option” but said Boehner would face pressure to rebuke Obama’s move. He said Speaker would have other options to address GOP discontent, such as passing legislation in the House to reverse the president’s actions.
“And if the House passed a legislative response, it would not get past the Senate. But either way, Boehner would get at least some credit from the GOP for trying,” Pitney said. “There is some risk, of course. Democrats could portray the GOP response as anti-Hispanic.”
From a political standpoint impeachment is dangerous enough because most of the country opposes it. But impeachment over relief for undocumented immigrants is doubly problematic: it threatens to damage the GOP’s already weak brand with Hispanic voters, whom strategists say are critical to the party’s ability to remain competitive in presidential elections.
“Steve King is the gift that keeps giving. House leadership can’t or won’t contain him, and he’s come to define the party on immigration,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice. “He is so valuable to the Democrats, he should be on the DNC’s payroll.”
A Democratic congressional aide said Obama is on firm legal and public opinion territory with the executive actions he’s taken, and predicted that Republicans won’t be able to hold off their fringes on impeachment. “Impeachment is already a rallying cry of the opponents of legal immigration,” the aide said. “File this under the category of crazy ideas that typically would not get very far, unless of course the gatekeepers for the crazy ideas are House Republicans.”
Veteran GOP strategists are hoping Republicans are smart enough not to go down that road.
“I don’t think John Boehner will be taking any marching orders from Steve King,” said John Feehery, a former aide to House Speaker Dennis Hastert. “Every time a House Republicans mentioned the word impeachment in the same sentence as Obama the President raises another million bucks.”
White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Boehner has “opened the door” to impeachment by moving to sue Obama, and predicted that the president’s immigration actions will “up the likelihood” of impeachment. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said it wouldn’t be the first time Boehner gave in to the right’s passions.
“Well, I do believe that the Speaker on a number of occasions said that there were not going to be steps taken by Republicans to shut down the government over health care,” Earnest said. “We did see that that happened.”