Barack Obama's administration is juggling several scandals at the moment, so it should come as no surprise that campaigns calling for the president’s impeachment are ramping up.
On Monday, an “Impeach Obama” rally led by Tea Party activists on an I-5 overpass caused a traffic disruption near Carlsbad, Calif., according to a local report on Patch.com. Another rally is scheduled for this Friday, Flag Day, on the steps of the Capitol in Washington. The Facebook page for that event had more than 1,700 likes as of Wednesday morning. Among the group’s major gripes are Obamacare, the Benghazi attacks, the IRS targeting of conservative groups and, of course, recent revelations of mass surveillance by the National Security Agency. The group calls such actions treasonous and insists that Obama and his administration must be held accountable.
For anyone who remembers the latter half of the last decade, such talk will ring familiar. George W. Bush was also the target of substantial impeachment campaigns throughout his second term, largely from people who opposed the war in Iraq. By 2007, in fact, more than half of Americans thought Bush should be impeached and removed from office, according to a poll conducted by the American Research Group -- this despite the fact that Bush had only one year left to serve.
Bush and Obama are by no means alone. While no U.S. president has ever been removed from office through the impeachment process, almost every president since Richard Nixon -- who resigned in 1974 just before he was about to be impeached over Watergate -- has been the target of at least one congressional effort to do so. Bill Clinton actually was impeached for the Lewinsky scandal, but not convicted. Bush Senior was targeted for the Gulf War and Ronald Reagan for the Iran-Contra affair. Even Jimmy Carter found himself on the receiving end of an impeachment threat in 1977, when crackpot extremist Lyndon LaRouche released a statement calling Carter’s “fascist ‘energy policy’” an impeachable offense, although he admitted a congressional resolution was unlikely.
The impeachment of a U.S. president requires two steps: The House of Representatives must pass the articles of impeachment, and the Senate then holds a trial. However, most impeachment resolutions die quickly in committee or never make it past the hearings stage. Nixon, who was charged with obstruction of justice and abuse of power under articles passed by the Judiciary Committee, resigned before the House could vote on his impeachment. He was later pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford. Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson remain the only two U.S. presidents in history who were impeached by the House, but both were acquitted by the Senate and finished out their terms (Johnson avoided being booted out of office by one vote).
If history is any reliable guide, it’s highly unlikely that Obama will be impeached before his term comes to an end in 2017, but that hasn’t stopped lawmakers from considering it. In March 2012, Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., introduced a bill calling for Obama’s impeachment over the use of “offensive military force.” The resolution died in committee. Meanwhile, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has been passive-aggressively threatening impeachment over the White House’s response to the Benghazi attacks, stressing to CNN that he’s not seeking impeachment but that he’s not willing to “take that off the table.”
Several Facebook pages are dedicated to Obama’s impeachment, with the largest having attracted more than 75,000 likes. And what happens to these efforts once their targets leave office unimpeached? Some never really go away. ImpeachBush.org, a movement dedicated to W’s impeachment, has since changed its name to IndictBushNow.org, still avowing its mission to “Hold Bush and Co. Accountable for Their Crimes.”