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In 2013, Tea Party activists organized nationwide efforts to hold pro-impeachment signs on highway overpasses. Photo by Jon Beilin

Let’s recall the worst GOP efforts to impeach President Obama

“Pushing his agenda” was a bit of a catch-all, wasn’t it?

The Republican itch to impeach President Obama was so long-lasting, various media outlets semi-regularly published lists of the attempts. The efforts heaped up until they earned their own Wikipedia page. The passage of time has lent some new context to these Janus-faced efforts. We can also now set them against present-day Republican calls to avoid a second impeachment of Donald Trump. Let’s take a look back at some of the oddest incidents, and smell the unity:

“Pushing his agenda”

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), August 1, 2011, at a Tea Party rally.

Hypocrisy Bonus: Burgess said at the time he intended impeachment to grind policy efforts to a halt. “I agree with you it would tie things up,” Burgess said, “No question about that. We need to tie things up.” Yet Burgess voted against impeaching Trump, citing the need for government efforts to proceed unhindered: “For too long Congress has diverted from focusing on policy…there is still work that needs to be done…Our discussion must put America first and focus on policy.”

“Commands from the U.N. or NATO”

Fmr Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), 2011, on his campaign website.

That’s not how it works: Yoho was a member of the Florida legislature at the time, campaigning (successfully) for a seat in Congress. Yoho had an impeachment laundry list ready, including the Obama administration supposedly taking “commands from the U.N. or NATO,” displaying Yoho’s startling lack of understanding how those bodies operate. He was rewarded with a seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“All this stuff”

Fmr Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), August 2013 town hall meeting.

Drawing a Constitutional blank: The late Senator didn’t really indicate his specific trip wires for impeachment, telling constituents “I think there’s some intended violation of the law in this administration but I also think there’s a ton of incompetence.” Coburn went on to state that he was unsure if the constitutional standards had been met for impeachment.

Several impeachment books were published at the time. This one’s subtitle: “Building the POLITICAL Case.” As opposed to, say, a Constitutional one.

Benghazi

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), May 2013, on “The Rusty Humphries Show.”

Worse than Watergate? Inhofe claimed Obama deserved impeachment over Benghazi because “Of all the great cover-ups in history — the Pentagon papers, Iran-Contra, Watergate, all the rest of them — this … is going to go down as most egregious cover-up in American history.” Nevermind that, at the time of Inhofe’s claims, the only big “scandal” was Susan Rice’s talking points for a Sunday show. A total of ten investigations of the Banghazi attacks — six of them led by Republicans in Congress — failed to make Inhofe’s fever dream a reality.

Defaulting on our debt

Rep. Louie Gohmert, October 2013, interview at the Value Voters Summit.

Power of the parse: Gohmert did a full procedural face-plant with his allegation that a debt default “would be an impeachable offense by the president.” Congress holds the power of the purse, not the President. A debt default would have occurred if Congress had failed to pay Uncle Sam’s bills. And in 2013, it was Congress forcing a possible default: they refused to raise the debt ceiling, as had been done many times prior. Their reason? They wanted, in exchange, the White House to kill off Obamacare. The former House Republican Leader, Eric Cantor, recently reflected on the wholly fantastical demand. The Senate led the House by the nose that year, to resolve the crisis.

Enhanced gun background checks

Fmr Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), 2013, statement.

Stockman threatened impeachment in reaction to Obama’s executive actions to enhance background checks on gun purchases. Stockman, among other conservative voices, bleated that Obama was somehow seizing guns out of the hands of owners. Obama would eventually lament, after additional school shootings, “How did we get to the place where people think requiring a comprehensive background check means taking away people’s guns?” Stockman made impeachment such a hobby horse, he distributed pro-impeachment books to every colleague. But Stockman was “one of those kind of creepy politicians that other politicians try to keep at a distance just in case it might rub off on them,” observed the Texas Monthly. He was later charged with 24 felonies, convicted of all but one, and sentenced to a decade in prison for what prosecutors called a “white collar crime spree.” Stockman’s sentence was commuted after serving just two of those ten years, by…wait for it…outgoing President Donald Trump.

Bergdahl prisoner exchange

Fmr Rep. Allen West, June 3, 2014, blog post.

Phone a friend: West thundered that Obama had engaged in “unilateral negotiations with terrorists” in exchanging five Guantanamo Bay detainees for US Army Private Bowe Bergdahl. In fact, the discussions leading to Bergdahl’s release had been multilateral, involving the United States, Afghanistan, and Qatar. The drumbeat against Obama for “negotiating with terrorists” was joined by the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism Chairman, Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), and a parade of conservative commentators. Similar wrath did not greet Trump’s chummy phone calls with the Taliban. Just four months after Trump struck a deal with the Taliban, the terror group was reportedly hunting American troops for Russian bounty payments. The Biden Administration is expected to take a different approach to the Trump-Taliban deal, in light of its advantages favoring the terror group.

U.S. troops in Syria

Fmr Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), March 7, 2012 news conference on Capitol Hill.

Anti-War: Jones, who died in early 2019, was a complex Republican in Congress. Deeply regretful for having voted for the invasion of Iraq, Jones renounced that vote in 2005 and afterwards consistently hewed an anti-war line. He vowed to impeach Obama “If Congress sends one troop, if one of our troops goes to Syria and is killed.” He even formalized his impeachment reflex by introducing H.Con.Res.40. Jones did harshly criticize Trump’s subsequent use of force inside Syria, but he did not file articles of impeachment as he’d promised against Obama.

Allowing transgender high school students to use the bathroom

Oklahoma State Legislature, May 2016, S. Con. Res 43.

Impeach everybody! Oklahoma State Sen. Anthony Sykes teamed up with State Rep. John Bennett in writing a measure that called upon the state’s Members of Congress to impeach “the President of the United States, the Attorney General of the United States, the Secretary of Education and any other federal official” involved in the bathroom access policy. The legislators were quite the pair. Sykes should have known better, as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Bennett not so much: he gained infamy for calling for the execution of Hillary Clinton, and insulted Muslim students on their day trip to the state capitol.

Sarah Palin’s immigration grab bag

Sarah Palin, July 2014, in Breitbart.

Palin announced she could no longer contain herself (this supposes she ever had contained herself), and called for Obama’s impeachment in an exclusive column for Breitbart. Her breaking point was immigration, via an item in Breitbart (good marketing loop there) claiming the United States was about to experience no border patrols whatsoever. None. Zip. This less-than-credible report was, to Palin, just the latest evidence of Obama’s “lawlessness”…without specifying which laws had been abridged. She also wrote of “many impeachable offenses”…without articulating what those might be. Palin’s grasp of the Constitution was never exactly firm.

Looking back, it’s clear Republicans were more upset over Obama’s tan suit than by Trump’s four-year spree of constitutional sabotage. Their approach to accountability as the opposition party was a scavenger hunt through the wreckage of their principles for pretexts to denounce Obama. When he departed, after eight years of a presidency notable for its lack of anything but manufactured scandals, they happily embraced a loafing delusionist, their impeachment reflex suddenly tamed.

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Joel Lawson

Joel Lawson

DC-based public affairs consultant. Fmr: Capitol Hill, Ctr for Partnership Studies; Caring Economy Campaign; Fmr Chair, GenderAction. about.me/joellawson