In May 2006, with the midterm elections just six months away, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi went out of her way to assure conservatives that if Democrats won control of Congress that November, any efforts to impeach George W. Bush and Dick Cheney would be “off the table.”
Now, four years later, with Republicans within range of winning control of the House and possibly the Senate, their tea bagger and neo-con base is sending an equally clear signal: They want Obama impeached, and they don’t much care how or why.
The Obama-haters sense there is blood in the water. Right-wing message boards and blog comments lit up over the holiday weekend after the White House Counsel issued a statement late on Friday declaring that an internal review had found nothing improper in the job offer White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel made to Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., in an attempt to persuade Sestak not to run against Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary. Sestak says the offer, which was delivered by former Pres. Clinton, was for a non-paying position on a presidential advisory board, which he declined. Sestak went on to win the primary on May 18.
(Facts don’t matter to this crowd — if you’ll believe Obama is a socialist Muslim Nazi, you’ll believe anything — but it is worth noting that Pres. Ronald Reagan offered California Sen. S.I. Hayakawa a paying position if he would drop out of a race, in 1981. )
Contrast the Sestak offer with the potentially impeachable offenses of Bush and Cheney, starting with cheerleading the country into war based on a pack of lies, an action that led to the needless deaths of thousands of U.S. service personnel and tens of thousands more innocent Iraqis, as well as the wasting of at least a trillion dollars on the eve of the economic collapse. There’s also their concerted efforts, 22 months after the 9/11 terror attacks, to betray the secret CIA operation tracking black market sales of WMD run by Valerie Plame, for no other reason than the fact that her husband had dared to call Dick Cheney out in a New York Times op-ed on his lies about Saddam’s nuclear capabilities. Bush and Cheney also personally drafted a regimen for torturing detainees, ordered the wiretapping of U.S. citizens and flouted laws they disagreed with. If gross official negligence were grounds for impeachment, Bush’s mishandling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina would have been enough to send him packing.
And yet, last week columnist Byron York, as reliable cog in the right-wing noise machine as there ever was, made a direct comparison between the Sestak offer and Cheney’s betrayal of national security in the Plame affair:
With Democrats in control of the White House, the House and the Senate, the president and attorney general don’t have to do anything. On the other hand, Republicans controlled the White House, House and Senate at the time of the Plame affair, and a Republican attorney general appointed Fitzgerald. But that only happened after a media firestorm over the CIA leak matter, and there has been no such storm over Sestak. Without a public outcry, and with Democrats controlling all the levers of power, Holder and Obama are free to deny all investigation requests from Republicans.
On Sunday, the Cheneyite neo-con wing chimed in when Liz Cheney called for an investigation into the Sestak offer during an appearance on Fox News:
CHENEY: Look, I think there are some things that clearly rise to the level of needing independent investigation. And what you have had happen here, obviously is the White House put out a statement the Friday before Memorial Day announcing Bill Clinton was involved, which I’m sure was really not that reassuring to most Americans. There is not an impeccable record of integrity there on the part of the former president … There is a lot here that just smells funny. If the White House thought what they were doing above board why did they go to Bill Clinton? Why did they need a cut-out for whatever they were doing? I want to know what he offered. I want to know what the president knew. The president said he didn’t know. I find it really hard to believe that the chief of staff would go to the former president to get him to try and get somebody out of the race without telling the president. And finally, this is very reminiscent of the campaign finance scandals back in the mid-’90s when they were selling the Lincoln bedroom. So I think the American people have a right to know here. We have Bill Clinton, Rahm Emanuel back engaged in this exactly what happened? Were any laws broken? Was an offer made?
Notice the echoes of Watergate phrasing. “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” But it’s rich to hear Dick Cheney’s daughter sneering at Bill Clinton’s integrity. Clinton told a sex lie. Dick Cheney deliberately revealed a national-security secret in order to further his own personal agenda. Beyond impeachment, a case could be made that he should have been locked up for life alongside Robert Hanssen or Aldrich Ames.
Leading the get-Obama charge in Congress is Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the excitably hyper-partisan ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Committee. Last week, Issa linked the job offer to impeachment by comparing it to Watergate, and thus impeachment, at least three times:
An email from Issa’s campaign to the Hill newspaper earlier this week included the subject line “The Sestak Affair – Obama’s Watergate?”
On Fox Wednesday, Issa dropped this line: “But if it goes on like Watergate does, or did, you begin to realize that the American people will want more than just an admonishment.”
And on Thursday, when Fox’s Neil Cavuto asked where the Sestak matter goes from here, Issa replied: “I think it goes down the same road that all these cover-ups that happen, and to be honest, in previous — in administrations of both parties — certainly, Watergate would be an example.”
Issa sobs at about the 7:40 mark.
Darrell Issa may be a fool, but he already has the scalp of a Democratic administration on his belt. In 2003, he was the first high-ranking pol to support the recall of California Gov. Gray Davis. Issa’s intention was to push Davis out so that he could win the governorship for himself, and he became a laughingstock when, with local news cameras rolling, he broke down in tears when it became clear that Arnold Schwarzenegger had bigfooted him out of the race.
The calls for impeachment may sound like crazy talk, but Joe Conason, perhaps the leading expert on the Clinton wars — “The Hunting of the President,” which Conason coauthored with Gene Lyons, is the definitive guide — sees parallels to the run-up to Clinton’s impeachment:
As the point man for Republican attacks on the Obama presidency, [Rep. Issa] is a laughable character. His billing of the deflated Sestak affair as “Obama’s Watergate,” replete with insinuations of “witness tampering,” sounds like partisan hysteria. So do the whispers and cries of “impeachment” from the wingnut gallery to whom Issa is playing.
But at a moment like this, it is worth remembering that Republican scheming to impeach Bill Clinton began long before Monica Lewinsky appeared on the public stage — and those grandiose notions seemed easy enough to laugh off at the time, too.
Theories about impeachable offenses committed by Clinton began to appear in right-wing forums as early as 1994, when such “scandals” as Whitewater, the FBI files screw-up and the White House Travel Office imbroglio were still new. To most observers those theories still sounded like a joke over the ensuing years, right up through the fall of 1997, when Bob Tyrrell, then the editor of the American Spectator, convened a dinner of conservatives at a Capitol Hill restaurant to plot the impeachment of Clinton.
The point is that no matter how heavy-handed and disreputable Issa may seem, he represents an attitude that has never changed in his party, which was not chastened by its electoral losses after the Clinton impeachment. Listening to right-wing propaganda against Obama over the past year or so, such as the “birther” meme, it is clear that there is a certain kind of Republican that still thinks any Democratic president lacks legitimacy by definition, and that those Republicans will entertain any scheme to eject a Democrat from the Oval Office.
It may be that Republicans aren’t chastened because, from their point of view, impeaching Clinton worked. It damaged the Clinton-Gore brand, which eventually put Florida in play and allowed them to appropriate the presidency for Bush by judicial fiat though Bush v. Gore. Would they do it again if there was a chance of a similar outcome for, say, GOP presidential nominee Sarah Palin or, what the heck, Liz Cheney? You betcha.
Darrell Issa is a buffoon but, get this, if Republicans take the House in November, Issa becomes chairman of the House Oversight committee. During the Clinton administration, Oversight was chaired by Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., who hounded the Clinton administration with hearing after hearing and investigations so trivial he even investigated Socks, the Clinton family cat.
Burton was one of three high-ranking Republicans pushing the impeachment of Clinton over a sex lie who’d also had extramarital affairs. Like then-House Judiciary Chair Henry Hyde, R-Ill., Burton’s affair had happened in the distant past. (Hyde famously described his affair as a “youthful indiscretion,” but it came to light that he was 41 years old at the time.) But House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., was in the thrall of his affair while Clinton’s impeachment was planned and executed.
Assuming the Republicans win control of Congress in November, in order to proceed toward impeachment of Pres. Obama next year, Chairman Issa would need the approval of House Speaker John Boehner and the cooperation of Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas. In the Senate, prospective Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Chairman Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, of Alabama, would have to be on board, too. In other words, it’s in the bag.
Maybe now would be a good time to get Minority Leader John Boehner on the record: If Republicans win control of Congress and he becomes speaker, will impeaching Pres. Obama be off the table?