Impeachment Chatter: Why a top Republican ducked but the Democrats keep invoking the I-word

Chris Wallace kept asking the question, and the No. 3 Republican in the House kept evading it.

It was a classic example of a politician who doesn’t want to answer a question and keeps dancing around it.

There weren’t 50 shades of gray in this “Fox News Sunday” question: “Will you consider impeaching the president?”

Rep. Steve Scalise tried to turn the tables: “You know, this might be the first White House in history that's trying to start the narrative of impeaching their own president. Ultimately, what we want to do is see the president follow his own laws.”

Wallace tried again: “But impeachment is off the table?”

Scalise deflected again: “Well, the White House wants to talk about impeachment, and, ironically, they're going out and trying to fundraise off that, too.”

And again: “I'm asking you, sir.”

Scalise stuck to his talking point: “Look, the White House will do anything they can to change the topic away from the president's failed agenda…”

In other words, a senior member of the House leadership repeatedly refused to rule out launching impeachment proceedings against President Obama—but didn’t want a headline saying he was considering it or dismissing it.

This is risky political business. I’d agree with most political analysts that this is a dangerous path for the Republicans that makes them look more extreme and consumed by anti-Obama fervor.

Of course, this riles up the part of the Republican base that is most fervently opposed to the president, which is exactly why the Louisiana congressman, who has strong Tea Party backing, refused to rule it out.

At the same time, Scalise was right that the White House is loving this impeachment talk. First Obama mockingly said that the Republicans want to sue him (a sort of Impeachment Lite) or impeach him for doing his job. (And the media love the story line as well.)

Then White House counselor Dan Pfeiffer told reporters that impeaching his boss was “a very serious thing”: “I would not discount that possibility. I think that Speaker Boehner, by going down this path of this lawsuit, has opened the door to Republicans possibly considering impeachment at some point in the future."

Sure, the Democrats would like nothing more than to run against the GOP as the Party of Impeachment, the party that wielded that weapon against the last Democratic president. This puts the focus on the Republicans rather than on having to defend ObamaCare, the Obama economy and the Obama foreign policy.

Much of the GOP establishment, of course, wants no part of this. The I-talk surfaced in a big way when Sarah Palin (who has just launched her own subscriber-based Internet channel) urged the impeachment of the president, without offering a bill of particulars. John Boehner couldn’t have dismissed the idea any more quickly.

In fact, after Pfeiffer’s comments, a Boehner spokesman shot back that “it is telling, and sad, that a senior White House official is focused on political games, rather than helping these kids and securing the border.”

Now the narrative has been complicated because Scalise is part of Boehner’s leadership team, elected in the shakeup that followed Eric Cantor’s primary defeat. But we’ve learned in recent years that Boehner doesn’t always control his fractured caucus.

The bottom line: Republicans aren’t going to jeopardize their edge heading into the midterms by throwing down an impeachment wild card. But the media are happy to keep covering it when either side raises the prospect.

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