The real six-year itch in American politics appears to be talk of removing the commander in chief, with President Obama becoming the latest in a long line of leaders to face calls for impeachment during his later years in office.
Then-President Clinton was impeached in his sixth year, and the calls to oust President George W. Bush, while they never reached that far, also ramped up in his sixth year in office.
Impeachment calls stretch deep into the 1800s, and everyone from Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon faced them. But presidential historians and political analysts say the recent calls have been different, suggesting a certain nonchalance for a power that was supposed to be used carefully.
“I think people are remarkably flippant. Neither side thinks this is actually going to happen,” said Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. “In recent years it seems the rhetoric has increased to where people are discussing impeachment in a general way of expressing disdain for the incumbent.”
The most recent calls for impeachment of Mr. Obama have come chiefly from conservative pundits but have been resoundingly ruled out by House Speaker John A. Boehner. Few lawmakers have publicly called for impeachment, although some Republicans are beginning to raise the possibility as a response to Mr. Obama’s expected executive order halting deportations for millions of illegal immigrants.
“I think Congress has to sit down and have a serious look at the rest of the Constitution, and that includes that ‘I’ word that we don’t want to say,” Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, said Sunday during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”
Other Republicans also have kept the issue alive. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate, is the highest-profile Republican to publicly call for impeachment. Recent polling indicates a majority of conservative voters agree with her position.
While it’s extremely unlikely House Republicans will pursue impeachment, the White House sees the clear benefit to keeping the topic alive: It can help paint the GOP as extremists while also energizing voters and bringing in millions of dollars in campaign donations.
“When the House takes an unprecedented step to sue the president of the United States even though he is issuing executive orders at the lowest rate in 100 years, I think it would be foolish to discount the possibility” of impeachment, White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.
Mr. Pfeiffer was the first administration official to bring up impeachment, mentioning it at a Washington breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor last month. Since then, Republican leaders such as Mr. Boehner have accused him of engaging in a “scam” designed to raise money for Democrats.
Even though Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, firmly rejected impeachment, the White House clearly doesn’t have full faith in the speaker’s assurances.
“Five days before the government shutdown, the speaker said there’s no way we [would] shut the government down over health care, and, lo and behold, we did,” Mr. Pfeiffer said.
Only two presidents — Andrew Johnson and Mr. Clinton — have ever been impeached, and both were acquitted by the Senate. Nixon almost certainly would have been impeached had he not resigned ahead of a House floor vote.
But the calls have become standard in American politics.
“It’s not new. If you go back and look at every president since FDR, there [have been] calls for impeachment,” said Sidney Milkis, a political science professor at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs.