What's really going on in the mind of John Boehner? Wouldn't it be just fascinating to get a glimpse of his inner-most thoughts as he pursues his totally principled and not at all ridiculously absurd lawsuit against the grand poobah Barack Hussein Obama II? How many of you believe Boehner is sitting there thinking: "This is the right thing for America, and for our political system, and will result in a healthier democracy?" Just wondering.
As for me, well, color me skeptical. You see, I believe John Boehner had one, and only one, reason for filing this lawsuit. It's the same reason he has had the House vote more than 50 times to repeal or significantly curtail Obamacare, and the same reason he had them vote to shut down the government last fall (these two were, of course, connected, as Boehner admitted). To quote the great philosopher Comicus, it was nothing more than "politics, politics, politics."
I understand that politicians have to play politics. I get that it's one of the things they do to win elections and maintain public support. Doing so enables them to implement real policies that they believe will benefit our society. I get more chapped when, as is all too common, they peddle political stunts as being anything but. Clearly, when one digs into the details of Boehner's lawsuit, there's little more than a nothing burger.
So, what are the politics of the Boehner lawsuit? As with the Obamacare repeal votes, the government shutdown and countless other actions, his goal is to mollify the extremists who have come to dominate his caucus and the Republican primary electorate. And let's be clear, these people are off-the-deep-end extreme, in particular the latter, for whom Eric Cantor -- the guy not long ago described as the "darling" of the rabid right-wingers "elected with the support of the 'Tea Party'" -- wasn't conservative enough. Throw the hungry tigers a bit of red meat, Boehner figured, and that will satisfy them. The problem is, it's not proving so easy to ride the tiger.
You see, plenty of conservatives wanted much more than a lawsuit. They wanted to impeach the president of the United States because they believe he has committed "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." Here's a list of 16 Republican members of Congress who have pushed impeachment. And on Monday Rep. Steve King (R-IA) once again brought up the possibility of impeachment if the president takes executive action on immigration reform that goes beyond the "line" King would draw. As Gail Collins documented, "Impeachment talk has been bounding around the Republican right for ages."
As recently as Wednesday, the King and Queen of conservatism, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin, slammed Boehner for saying that Republicans would refrain from impeaching President Obama. And don't forget that two different polls, one done for CNN and the other for Fox News, found that 57 percent of Republicans support impeaching Obama.
Boehner is trying to thread a needle here. He wants to gin up the party's right-wing base -- more crucial than ever in the upcoming mid-term elections -- without alienating the center. Plus, he needs to keep the right-wingers in his own caucus happy enough to defeat any attempt to overthrow him as Speaker.
Given the reality that Boehner is trying to be as extreme as he can get away with in his attacks on the president, why in the world wouldn't Barack Obama do exactly what he has been doing in response? Why wouldn't he call Boehner out on his extremism? Why wouldn't he use that extremism to motivate his own supporters to get out and vote?
And here's how the president is doing it:
"Stop being mad all the time," Obama chided Republicans during rowdy, campaign-style remarks. "Stop just hatin' all the time."
[snip] Obama has slammed the [lawsuit] as a political stunt, egging Republicans on with the quip "so sue me" during a speech in early July. "They're mad because I'm doing my job," Obama said on Wednesday, calling on lawmakers to instead take action on closing tax loopholes and pass new laws he said will spur job creation. "We can do so much more if Congress would just come on and help out a little bit," he said. "Just come on. Come on and help out a little bit."
Obama is playing this exactly correct. By forcing Boehner and House Republicans to go on the record ruling out impeachment, he does three things. First, the president gets the Republican majority that wants impeachment angry at Boehner, undercutting whatever gains the lawsuit might bring Republicans from the hard right.
Second, Obama gets Boehner and House Republicans to talk about impeachment in the same breath that they are talking about the lawsuit, making clear the connection between the two, whatever they say about ruling out impeachment. More than 60 percent of independent voters in both of the two aforementioned polls oppose impeachment (despite the Fox poll prepping respondents with questions that painted Obama in a negative light just before asking them about impeachment), with barely one out of three in favor. Although the Fox poll didn't ask, the CNN poll also found independents opposing Boehner's lawsuit, 55 percent to 43 percent. Obama is making sure that independents know what Boehner is up to, and reminding them of Republican extremism.
Third, the president is giving that same reminder to his own supporters, in particular the members of the Obama coalition who are disproportionately likely to sit out the midterm elections. By personalizing the midterms as a chance to stop the extremists who would do anything to destroy him, President Obama is seizing the opportunity to get our people to the polls. When our voters turn out, we win. I know I've heard that somewhere.
If Democrats can raise gobs of money calling out Republican extremism, money that can help boot some of those extremists out of office and help hold the Senate so that Barack Obama can get more progressive judges confirmed, not to mention pass a much more progressive budget than they'd get with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, then by all means, do it.
Is the president playing politics here? Sure. Are House Republicans likely to actually vote to impeach him? No. But you know what? I don't care. John Boehner is the one who started this game, the one who has sought time and again to present himself as standing up to the president. It's sweet justice to see John Boehner's shenanigans redounding to the benefit of Barack Obama.