Impeachment is in the news again and, as usual, it is all stuff and nonsense. This time, Republican gadfly Sarah Palin has taken up the impeachment cudgel, proving something the people who cover Sarah Palin have long suspected. Not only does Sarah Palin not count in the overall scheme of things, Sarah Palin simply cannot count at all, because she does not seem to know how to count congressmen to determine if impeachment is feasible, given the Republican membership in the 113th Congress.
Sarah Palin is not alone in her impassioned pleas that Barack Obama be removed from office. Former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo, former Florida congressman Allen West, Iowa Republican Senatorial candidate Jodi Ernst, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, and the entire South Dakota Republican Party have all called for Mr. Obama’s impeachment, indicating that there are more math-challenged Republicans out there than first thought. Once again, however, Sarah Palin claims the limelight, casting a giant shadow across the land, in her own mind at least. Unfortunately for the ex-Alaskan governor and former Republican vice presidential candidate, her impeachment band wagon has already bogged down in a series of inconvenient truths.
Almost no one among those Republicans who are currently in the House or Senate wants anything to do with that dog and pony show, but that hasn’t stopped Palin from coming out with both guns blazing, carrying ignorance in one hand, and arrogance in the other. Never shy about speaking down to Republican party leaders, Palin mocked House Speak John Boehner’s plan to sue the president as bringing “a law suit to a gunfight.”
For once, believe it or not, Palin has a point because neither John Boehner nor anyone else can sue a sitting president for anything the president does to exercise the powers of his office, according to a 1982 Supreme Court decision in Nixon vs. Fitzgerald. Being right about Boehner’s lawsuit does not, however, make Palin right about feasibility of impeaching President Obama.
In order to impeach the president of the United States, an impeachment resolution must be passed by a simple majority of the members of the House of Representatives. The Republican party has had more than a simple majority in the House of Representatives since 2011, but they have not attempted to impeach the president because they do not have the votes in the Senate to uphold a bill of impeachment.
It takes a two-thirds majority of Senate to convict a sitting president and complete the impeachment process. That means that the Republicans would need 67 votes to convict but the Republicans only have 45 seats in the 113th Congress…22 votes short of the number needed to convict.
Things will not be much better for the Republicans after the 2014 elections. Most of the handicappers who predict elections for a living have identified eight “toss-up” states, which are those states where there is a chance that a Senate seat may change hands. Six of the toss-up seats currently belong to Democrats, while two belong to Republicans. Even if the Republican party were to capture all eight of those at-risk seats, that would only give them a 53 seat majority in the Senate, leaving them still 14 votes shy of a two-thirds majority. On the basis of this simple arithmetic, there is no way that Republicans could convict Barack Obama and throw him out of the White House, unless 14 Democrats would agree to vote with them…and that will not happen because any Democrats voting to impeach would almost certainly get voted out of their own jobs the next time they ran for re-election.
In the highly unlikely worst case scenario for the Democratic party, in which the Republicans keep all of their seats in the 2014 election and the Democrats lose all of theirs, the Republicans would pick up 21 seats, giving them a total of 66 seats…still one short of the number needed to convict a president on a bill of impeachment. In that event, the Republican party would still need one Democratic turncoat to convict, and that would probably be the hardest vote to get in the history of politics….and there is no guarantee that the Republicans would all vote to convict.
No one…not even Sarah Palin…believes that the Republican party could pick up enough seats in 2014 to enable them to successfully impeach President Obama. Sarah Palin’s calls for the president’s impeachment are nothing more than another grandstand play from a woman who has built her career on the basis of such ploys for attention and wants to keep her brand fresh for a presidential bid in 2016. After all, if the Democrats are going to the bull pen to bring Hillary Clinton back to the mound, why would the Republicans not want to counter a female Democratic candidate with one of their own. Either that, or she really cannot count after all.
If the Republican party gains a majority in the Senate in 2014, President Obama would probably have to spend the last two years of his presidency vetoing every bill passed by a Republican-controlled Congress. Therein lies the problem the Republican party faces for the two years between November 4, 2014 and November 8, 2016, having to cooperate with a Democratic president who holds absolute veto power over any bill the Republicans pass.
Since 2011, when the Republicans gained control over the House of Representatives, the Republicans in the House have been in the driver’s seat, refusing to pass Democratic bills while voting up Republican bills that were then shot down in the Democrat controlled Senate. If the Republicans were to gain a majority in the Senate, and they were to persist in their pattern of attempting to enact laws that the Democratic party will not accept, they will cast Mr. Obama in the role of “Vetoer in Chief,” putting the shoe on the other foot. Their legislative agendas would suddenly be at his mercy, instead of the other way around, as it has been for the past three years.
From 2011 to 2014, the Republicans have denied Mr. Obama any legislation that would have advanced his agenda. If the Republicans gain a majority in the Senate without gaining a full two-thirds majority they would need to override presidential vetoes, they will have to go to the polls in 2016 having accomplished nothing with their majority to face a very displeased electorate who – not having Barack Obama to blame any more – might very well turn their ire on an ineffective Republican party.
Back in the House of Representatives, where it takes 290 votes to override a presidential veto, the Republicans have only 234 seats in the 113th Congress, which means they would have to pick up 56 seats in 2014 in order to override presidential rejections of their legislative jump shots. Most political handicappers rank that as a total impossibility.
It is a well-known and much-bemoaned fact that it is virtually impossible to unseat an incumbent of either party precisely because of the way that Congressional districts have been Gerrymandered over the years. The process through which Republican state Legislatures have redistricted congressional seats to protect their advantage in the House of Representatives paradoxically also protects Democratic seats. By redrawing districts to concentrate Republican voters, the Republican redistricting effort has also created safe seats for Democrats, thus perpetuating the Congressional deadlock. (Democrats have also been Gerrymandering in the states they control, so both parties are to blame for the balkanization of the House of Representatives.)
It is also a well-known fact that most Congressional seats only change hands when an incumbent retires, leaving the seat up for grabs. Sixteen Democrats are retiring from the Senate this year. Twenty-five Republicans are retiring. Even if the Republicans were to keep all of the seats that are being vacated by retiring Republican congressmen, AND pick up all the seats being vacated by retiring Democratic congressmen, this would only increase their margin of power in the House of Representatives by 16 seats, bringing their total to 250 votes.
With 250 votes in the House, the Republican party would still be 40 votes short of the 290 they would need to override a presidential veto in the House. Lacking a two-thirds majority in either house of Congress, the Republican party now faces two more years of impotency, regardless of what happens in November of 2014, because they will have neither the power of impeachment to hold over the incumbent president, nor the ability to override that president’s vetoes.
The really intriguing question, however, is about the manner in which this story is being reported. While every news outlet in the country is covering these stories today, most of them fail to point out that the Republicans do not have the votes to convict in the Senate, and do not have the votes to override a presidential veto. By the same token, most of the reporters covering John Boehner’s threat to sue President Obama for acts committed in office fail to mention that the Supreme Court has already spoken on that issue, giving the president of the United States blanket immunity for acts committed in the due process of performing the tasks required by his office, making both impeachment and injunctive relief political non sequiturs. That does not seem to stop the reporters of the world, who know a good story when they see one, from squeezing all the mileage they can get from two stories that should have been labeled “Dead on Arrival,” raising the question of journalistic ethics with respect to the coddling of stupid politicians.
2014 Campaign Update by Alan M. Milner, National News Editor