WASHINGTON — Democrats cannot get enough of Republicans talking about impeaching President Barack Obama.
They are using it to raise money, and claim to have collected $1 million on Monday alone. They are using it to add supporters, with 74,000 new contributors. And, to animate their base, they would like to goad Republicans into debating impeachment in close races in the midterm elections.
All of which has forced Republican leaders in Congress to talk down any notion of “high crimes and misdemeanors,’’ saying that Democrats were cynically using the specter of impeachment as a “scam’’ to generate support.
The inside-out character of the debate provided yet another measure of how inverted the politics of polarized Washington has become.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, pledged there would be no impeachment, a sentiment echoed by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who accused the Democrats of duplicity.
“This whole talk about impeachment is coming from the president’s own staff and coming from Democrats on Capitol Hill,’’ said Boehner. “Why? Because they’re trying to rally their people to give money and to show up in this year’s elections. We have no plans to impeach the president. We have no future plans.’’
Minutes later, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, responded to Boehner’s accusations during a news briefing.
“The people who are culpable for this are the people who have the prospect of voting to do exactly what they say should be done,’’ Earnest said, naming several House Republicans who have called for Obama’s impeachment. “The priorities of the Republican Congress are all wrong.’’
Democrats would like to extend that narrative into the fall, and add an additional element: the lawsuit being brought by Boehner and other members of the House leadership against Obama, on the ground that the president had abused his power. For his part, Obama has ridiculed Republicans for suing him for doing his job. The House is expected to vote on whether to file the lawsuit on Wednesday. On cue, late Tuesday afternoon, the House Majority PAC, which is aligned with Democrats, sent out another fundraising appeal pegged to the potential lawsuit, raising the alarm that this would be the “first time in history Congress has voted to sue a sitting president.’’
The Democrats’ embrace of the impeachment conversation began in earnest on Friday and has brought a flood of accusations, denials and hypotheticals, generally followed by a plea for help and money.
Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to Obama, lent the matter an air of gravity when he said in an interview Friday with reporters that the lawsuit had “opened the door to Republicans possibly considering impeachment at some point in the future.’’ He emphasized that the White House was taking the possibility seriously.
On Sunday, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who is the incoming House majority whip, refused to rule out impeachment in an interview with Fox News Sunday, prompting criticism from both Democrats and some pundits, including MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough. The Democrats sent out a warning, calling it a “red alert moment’’ and said that “the fate of Obama’s presidency is at stake.’’
On Monday, an op-ed article published in USA Today, written by Boehner, defended his lawsuit, claiming, “President Obama has overstepped his constitutional authority.’’ Democrats seized on the language, sending email that threats of impeachment were “no laughing matter’’ and asking for contributions to help “take on the Tea Party.’’
And in an hourlong interview with reporters Tuesday morning, Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, missed few chances to utter the words “lawsuit’’ and “impeachment’’ whether the question was about immigration, redistricting or broadening the electorate.
“This is going to be 98 days of daily process between Republicans, who are obsessed with lawsuits and appear to be moving closer to impeachment,’’ Israel said.
The talk of impeachment has had a catalytic effect on fundraising for the Democratic campaign committee, which raised $7.6 million online through more than 400,000 donations since Boehner announced the lawsuit against the president. That is an average of $19 per donation, which Israel attributed to concern among the party’s base.
“It’s having the unintended consequence of moving our base in a midterm election and also moving persuadable voters to us in a midterm election,’’ Israel added.
The response to impeachment should not come as much of a surprise. According to a CNN/ORC International poll conducted July 18-20, 35 percent of the country wanted Obama impeached, 57 percent of Republicans and 13 percent of Democrats.
Impeachment talk seemed to creep into every statement from the White House or from Democrats on Tuesday, as Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the majority leader, managed an impeachment mention while praising the agreement on overhauling the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Isn’t it good we’re talking about this rather than impeachment of the president or suing the president?’’ Reid said, according to Politico.