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Impeach Obama! (And FDR, Eisenhower, Carter, Reagan, Etc.)

Michigan Rep. Kerry Bentivolio listens at a Nov. 4, 2012, rally in Livonia, Mich. The suburban Detroit congressman has said it would be a "dream come true" to seek the impeachment of President Obama.
Paul Sancya
Michigan Rep. Kerry Bentivolio listens at a Nov. 4, 2012, rally in Livonia, Mich. The suburban Detroit congressman has said it would be a "dream come true" to seek the impeachment of President Obama.

Based on what we know now, President Obama is as likely to be impeached as he is to be a lottery pick in next year's NBA draft.

Yet it's equally unlikely that calls for his impeachment will end anytime soon. Adding fuel to the fire recently was Obama's old friend from his Senate days, Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who suggested Obama had come "perilously close" to meeting the impeachment threshold.

Freshman Rep. Kent Bentivolio, R-Mich., fanned the flames by saying an Obama impeachment would be a "dream come true," though the lawyers he consulted on the matter told him to keep dreaming.

The congressional summer recess also found Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, telling his constituents that Republicans "could probably get the votes" in the House to impeach Obama.

Of course, as Garrett Epps, a University of Baltimore Law School professor, points out in "American Epic: Reading the U.S. Constitution," nothing can stop a House bent on impeachment from seizing on any reason to do so "whether for illicit sex, jaywalking, or drinking Pinot Noir with fish."

It's kind of like the old saw about the ease with which a prosecutor can persuade a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. But getting the House to vote for impeachment, however, is a far simpler task than getting a conviction in the Senate.

Still, so long as the U.S. has political parties, there will be people calling for the impeachment of the president of an opposing party. Or even threatening impeachment against presidents of their own party.

Only three of 44 presidents have had to endure actual impeachment proceedings. House charges against John Tyler were dropped; Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were acquitted.

But name a modern non-impeached president and someone probably imagined him being impeached. A Republican congressman from Michigan wanted Franklin Roosevelt impeached, and he wasn't alone.

Perhaps more fancifully, the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote a poem titled "Tentative Description of a Dinner Given To Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower." Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, especially, all inspired more or less serious calls for their impeachment.

Many of those calls came from one lawmaker, the late Democratic Rep. Henry Gonzalez. The Texas congressman went after so many Republican presidents that journalist John Nichols, in his book The Genius of Impeachment, says he was jokingly referred to by his House colleagues as "Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Impeachment)."

None of Gonzalez's targets, of course, were impeached. And, again, Obama isn't likely to be either.

No less a Republican leader than Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, no friend to Obama, is trying to stamp out the impeachment sparks.

On NBC's Meet the Press recently, he said:

"Look, I reject that kind of talk. The reality is I didn't like it when the left spent eight years trying to delegitimize President Bush, calling to question his election.

"I don't think we should be doing that to President Obama. The reality is, one of the great things about this country is we do have a peaceful transfer of power. I disagree with this president's policy. And stop talking about impeachment."

Obama White House aides couldn't agree more. Responding to an online petition with more than 49,000 signers calling for the president's impeachment, someone in the White House operation wrote a response headlined: "The Short Answer Is No, But Keep Reading."

After refuting several of the charges made by the president's opponents, the post said:

"So the short answer is that we won't be calling for the President's impeachment — and given the fact that you made your appeal to the White House itself, we doubt you were holding your breath waiting for our support.

"Here's the important thing, though. Even though this request isn't going to happen, we want you to walk away from this process with knowledge that we're doing our best to listen — even to our harshest critics."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.
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