Capitol Hill Republicans have furiously denounced President Obama’s executive action on immigration as illegal, unconstitutional and an abuse of the power of his office — but they get skittish when the talk turns to impeachment.
Even Rep. Steve King, one of the most fiery opponents of the president’s “executive amnesty” for illegal immigrants, backed away from his previous calls for impeachment.
“I don’t want to do the ‘I’ word. Nobody wants to throw the nation into that kind of turmoil,” the Iowa Republican told CNN immediately following Mr. Obama’s executive action.
Behind the scenes, Republican officials offer more strategic rationales for avoiding the “I” word.
Some argue that impeachment would likely prove unsuccessful, failing to eject Mr. Obama from office while undermining other congressional moves to reverse the executive action that will grant legal status to nearly half of the United States’ estimated 12 million undocumented residents.
“I don’t want to make a martyr out of the guy,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, said when asked whether he’d back impeachment of Mr. Obama.
“And besides that, every time there is an attempt at impeachment and someone’s been impeached, such as Clinton was, then it comes down to expelling him. If that action doesn’t take place, everyone thinks he’s exonerated. I don’t want people to think he’s exonerated on this,” he said. “That’s what I’m afraid impeachment would lead to.”
Others Republican lawmakers fear impeachment would play into Democrats’ hands by rallying Mr. Obama’s supporters just as the GOP takes full control of Congress. They say it would be a boon for Obama, making him the center of attention and allowing him to play the victim.
Those weary of political backlash from impeachment point to the Democrats’ repeatedly sounding warnings about GOP plans to impeach Mr. Obama during the midterm election campaigns in order to stir up the base and solicit contributions.
For impeachment, the House Judiciary Committee must approve articles of impeachment that are sent to the full House for debate. If any of the articles pass the House in a majority vote, the president is impeached.
The Senate then could hold a trial, debate a verdict in a private session and hold a public vote on whether to expel the president from office, which requires a two-thirds majority, or 67 votes.
Congress has impeached just two presidents, Andrew Johnson in 1868 for illegally firing the secretary of war, and Bill Clinton in 1999 for perjury and obstruction of justice related to his extramarital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Neither was expelled from office by the Senate.
Rank-and-file Republicans largely agree that Mr. Obama committed an impeachable offense when he unilaterally rewrote immigration law. But they have decided that the executive action must be confronted head-on with challenges in court or blocked via Congress’ power of the purse rather than targeting the president with impeachment proceedings.
If the Republican-run Congress sends Mr. Obama an appropriations bill that defunds his executive action on immigration, a veto battle likely will ensue. GOP strategists noted that overturning a presidential veto and removing the president from office through impeachment both require 67 votes in the Senate.
“You are going to be in an all-out struggle to block funding, and [if] you’re going to be in a dramatic fight to get those votes, then why would you entertain a course of action in which you are going to have no hope of getting those folks,” said a GOP congressional aide. “But if successful, you’re actually going to change the outcome of the executive amnesty.
“If a profound harm is facing the American people in terms of what this executive amnesty will do to them, and you have the chance to block it, then you have to pursue that first and foremost with everything you have,” said the aide.
Outside of Congress, some conservatives continue to call for impeachment.
Real estate mogul Donald Trump said Republicans had fallen for Democrats’ reverse psychology ploy of saying they welcome impeachment.
“Do you think Obama seriously wants to be impeached and go through what Bill Clinton did?” Mr. Trump said on Fox News. “It would be an absolute embarrassment. It would go down on his record permanently.”