WASHINGTON - The drums of impeachment grew louder this week and, wouldn't you know it, the loudest thumping emanated from inside the White House.
That's right: members of the Obama administration are talking about the impeachment of President Barack Obama.
In fact, they're not only engaging in such talk. They appear to be encouraging it.
While the Republican leadership has worked to smother chatter about such an unpopular idea with congressional elections approaching, Obama's inner circle is providing ample oxygen.
The president and his wife have both referred to the impeachment idea in recent days, in speeches to friendly crowds. And two senior members of the president's staff addressed the possibility this week.
"There's no doubt that there are other prominent voices in the Republican Party that have strongly advocated impeachment," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest during a news conference Friday.
"That's part of their agenda."
Which begs the question: Why? Why would an administration bother pouring fuel on a puny political fire that, for now, shows absolutely no sign of ever reaching the White House lawn?
There are some possible reasons:
—They're raising money on the issue. The Democratic party has already sent out a series of alarmist, all-caps emails to supporters asking for donations because: "THE IMPEACHMENT OF PRESIDENT OBAMA IS NOW A REAL POSSIBILITY."
In a note to reporters, the Republican leadership dismissed all this talk as a fundraising ploy. Obama's spokesman, Earnest, was also pressed about the fundraising element and sidestepped the question Friday.
—Then there's election turnout. Democrats have expressed fear that their core supporters are less inclined to vote in non-presidential election years — a phenomenon Obama has publicly referred to as a "congenital disease" within his party.
Might these voters be scared to the polls by the prospect of a Republican-controlled Senate, voting in an impeachment trial initiaited by a Republican-controlled House of Representatives?
A researcher who has studied African-American voting patterns for decades, David Bositis, told the Washington Post this week there's a "very strong case" to be made that any attempt to impeach Obama would prompt black voters to turn out in greater numbers.
—Impeachment is deeply unpopular. The last time Republicans tried it, it helped Bill Clinton's approval ratings. This week, a poll suggested two-thirds of Americans oppose impeachment.
Democrats wouldn't complain if it became the election issue in November — as opposed to, say, the deluge of migrants at the southern border or the deteriorating situation in Iraq.
—Finally, it drives a wedge right into the Republican party.
Until a couple of weeks ago, impeachment talk was mainly idle chatter among some of the more ardent members of the Republican grassroots. The issue was lobbed into the national conversation thanks to Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate and tea party favourite who called for Obama's removal.
The Republican brass in Washington tried to snuff out the discussion. Speaking in monosyllables, House Speaker John Boehner curtly expressed disagreement with the idea. In a lesser move apparently designed to satisfy the party base, he announced he would sue Obama over his use of executive orders.
Obama's team has responded by poking — repeatedly — at the Republican beehive.
They're not just raising the issue. They're promising to perform the one action perhaps most guaranteed to drive the Republican base into an impeachment-minded frenzy: Executive orders are coming on immigration.
Obama's aides say such a move is imminent, once the administration has had a chance to study the legal options to work around a gridlocked Congress and fix America's dysfunctional immigration system.
In other words, the White House might be preparing to incite impeachment-loving, immigration-reform-loathing members of the Republican base into a pre-election insurrection against the party's immigration-supporting, impeachment-resistant leaders.
Then again, it's not always easy to predict how these things end up.
The White House is well aware that there are forces in the party that Boehner can't control. His own Facebook page contains a litany of insults against him from within his party, accusing him of being in bed with Obama on immigration.
There have been numerous threats, even from inside his elected caucus, that he'll be stripped of his speakership should he allow an immigration-reform bill onto the House floor.
It's been a recurring theme in American politics: warnings of a grassroots-led revolt paralyzing the Republican leadership, leading to stalled immigration reform, to last year's government shutdown, and a whole host of delayed fiscal decisions.
So it could happen again on impeachment, the White House says, with the Republican brass losing control.
"I think a lot of people in this town laugh that (possibility) off," White House staffer Dan Pfeiffer said at a Friday breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor. "I would not discount that possibility. I think Speaker Boehner, by going down the path of this lawsuit (against Obama), has opened the door to Republicans possibly considering impeachment at some point in the future...
"We take it very seriously. And I don’t think it would be a good thing."
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