Impeachment is not a toy

Last week, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) talked up the idea of impeaching President Obama, not over high crimes, but because “it would tie things up” in Washington for a while, making governing impossible. What would Republicans use as a justification for impeachment? The right-wing lawmaker said, “The articles would have to be drafted. They would have to be substantial. Right now, I don’t know that you have that substance behind them.”

Yesterday, Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain was also asked whether he would support the GOP launching an impeachment crusade. He apparently likes the idea.

“That’s a great question and it is a great — it would be a great thing to do but because the Senate is controlled by Democrats we would never be able to get the Senate first to take up that action, because they simply don’t care what the American public thinks. They would protect him and they wouldn’t even bring it up,” Cain said, citing the administration’s position on the Defense of Marriage Act as an impeachable offense.

More from his answer: “So the main stumbling block in terms of getting him impeached on a whole list of things such as trying to pass a health care mandate which is unconstitutional, ordering the Department of Justice to not enforce the Defense of Marriage Act — that’s an impeachable offense right there.”

I hesitate to even treat this as a substantive observation, but what Cain considers “impeachable offenses” is quite dumb. The administration concluded that a law is unconstitutional and decided not to defend it in court — it’s a move previous administrations have done with other laws, and it’s not a high crime. For that matter, passing a law with a health care mandate — which was a Republican idea, by the way — is also not grounds for impeachment.

But the larger point is, a growing number of Republicans appear to consider presidential impeachment as just another partisan tool — or more accurately, just another toy to play with.

Last year, before the midterm elections, I took an interest in the variety of Republican officeholders and candidates who said they’d like to impeach the president and there were, alas, quite a few. With Burgess and Cain talking it up, the contingent appears to be growing.

For the record, no, I don’t really expect the House to impeach the president, at least not unless Obama gets a second term, at which point anything’s possible. But the fact that some Republicans are comfortable speaking like this, out loud and on the record, is a reminder of just how far gone the party really is.