There's a brewing conservative media war over whether to impeach President Obama.
Largely relegated to the fringe for years, the prospect of impeachment has been invigorated thanks to conservative media figures like Fox News contributors Sarah Palin and Allen West, who have spent recent weeks loudly demanding Obama's removal from office. But not everyone in conservative media is on board, with several prominent figures arguing that impeachment is ill-fated, politically toxic, and could severely damage Republicans' chances in the upcoming 2014 midterm elections.
Last week, Fox News polled on the question, finding that while a strong majority of Americans (61 percent) oppose impeachment, 56 percent of Republicans are in favor of it.
Over the weekend, impeachment got another boost thanks to Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the incoming House Majority Whip, appearing on Fox News Sunday and refusing "to take impeaching President Barack Obama off the table if Obama takes executive action to limit deportations." On Saturday, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) announced on Breitbart News Saturday that if the president uses more executive actions on illegal immigration, "we need to bring impeachment hearings immediately before the House of Representatives."
In June, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) introduced a plan to sue the president over the delayed implementation of the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act. While Boehner has repeatedly dismissed impeachment talk, reporters like the New Republic's Brian Beutler have speculated that the lawsuit was designed to "serve as a relief valve for the building pressure to draw up articles of impeachment."
If Boehner's lawsuit was designed to cool impeachment fever, it's not working. Several conservative media figures have lashed out over his "political stunt" and continue to bang the impeachment drum. As November approaches, the fight over impeachment among conservative media is getting increasingly acrimonious with each side convinced the other is hurting the country.
Media Matters looks at where various conservative commentators currently stand on impeachment.
From the July 17 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Right-wing media labeled the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) plan to garnish the wages of polluters who have failed to pay their fines a "power grab," even though the agency is acting with authority granted to it by decades-old federal law that is already used by 30 other federal agencies.
On July 2, the EPA announced that it would implement a provision of the Debt Collection Improvement Act that would allow the agency to collect delinquent debts from polluters by garnishing their wages without first obtaining a court order. This law, which was approved by an overwhelming majority in both houses of Congress and signed into law in 1996, is applicable not just to the EPA but all federal agencies. According to the text of the law and Department of the Treasury guidelines, all federal agencies who collect delinquent debts can "collect money from a debtor's disposable pay by means of administrative wage garnishment to satisfy delinquent nontax debt" without going to the courts first.
Right-wing media outlets like The Washington Times were quick to accuse the EPA of "flexing its regulatory muscle under President Obama" to "unilaterally garnish the paychecks of those accused of violating its rules," because the EPA's proposed rule would no longer require the agency to "obtain a court judgment before garnishing non-Federal wages." The Times framed the announcement as an EPA "power grab," even though the report later pointed out that "every federal agency has the authority to conduct administrative wage garnishment." Fox News was similarly outraged over the EPA's announcement, with Townhall.com news editor Katie Pavlich appearing on The Kelly File to claim that "the EPA now is acting as judge, jury, and executioner" by attempting to adopt the wage garnishment rule.
But Fox's senior judicial analyst, Judge Andrew Napolitano, took it even further on the July 10 edition of Fox & Friends. Napolitano complained that the EPA did not have the authority to garnish wages without a court order because "Congress never authorized it. Congress couldn't authorize it. It blatantly violates the Constitution." Napolitano went on to claim that the EPA's proposed plan was "not legal" because the rule didn't protect debtors' "right to a hearing," and that it was "the president's people" who were behind the rule change:
Mere weeks after right-wing media loudly defended racist Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy with erroneous allegations of a "federal land grab" of his property, the same conservative outlets are now advocating for a border fence that would require an immense seizure of private lands.
In the first half of 2014, thousands of children fled across the U.S.-Mexico border to escape rising violence plaguing their home countries in Central America. Anti-immigrant figures in the right-wing media have responded by stoking nativist insecurities, erroneously suggesting the children pose public health and safety concerns and that they will be allowed to stay in the United States indefinitely.
Many of these figures have also returned to calls for a fence to be constructed on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Conservative radio host and ABC News contributor Laura Ingraham made the completion of a border fence part of her personal plan to address holes in the nation's immigration policy in a manifesto titled, "The Government Vs. The People: Rebuilding Trust In The Midst Of The Illegal Alien Tsunami".
On Fox News July 9, America's Newsroom co-host Martha MacCallum floated the idea of prioritizing appropriations to construct a border fence over money for humanitarian care and administrative personnel to facilitate customs hearings. On July 8, Fox guest Pat Buchanan said in an appearance on Hannity, "Why cannot the government say 'Look, let's get together, we do need a secure fence, a double- or triple-link fence, all along the border of the United States with Mexico'?"
About a week earlier, contributor Charles Krauthammer advocated for a border fence, saying, "If fences don't work, why is there one around the White House?"
Calls for a fence often lack context or details -- and in MacCallum's case, drastically misinform on the cost of such an endeavor. In particular, conservative media tend to ignore the fact that, in order to complete a border fence, the federal government will have to seize, through eminent domain, the private property of American landowners from Texas to California.
At least 15 Fox News hosts and contributors have recently campaigned with two political organizations created and heavily funded by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. Many of those same Fox News personalities have also defended the Kochs from attacks and praised their political efforts on-air.
The controversial conservative brothers founded the 501(c)(4) group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and its 501(c)(3) sister group the Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) in 2004. David Koch has called AFP the group he feels "most closely attached to and most proud of" and chairs AFPF's board. (The Washington Post notes of the IRS code distinction: "A 501(c)(4) is allowed to do considerably more issue advocacy work than a 501(C)(3), however. Neither group has to disclose the identity of its donors or the amounts of money those contributors have given.")
Politico's Ken Vogel reported that AFP "intends to spend more than $125 million this year on an aggressive ground, air and data operation benefiting conservatives, according to a memo distributed to major donors and sources familiar with the group." The Washington Post wrote that with a paid staff of 240, split between 32 states, AFP "may be America's third-biggest political party." In 2012, "More than $44 million of the $140 million the organization raised in that election cycle came from Koch-linked feeder funds."
AFP and AFPF are part of a massive $400 million network of political groups spearheaded by the Kochs. The Huffington Post's Paul Blumenthal noted, "It is the electoral focus of the Koch nonprofits and their sophisticated efforts to shield donors' identities -- plus the vast sums of money they move -- that has brought them the unwanted attention of both Democratic Senate leadership and reporters. There exists no outside network or organization supporting Democratic Party candidates in elections, while not disclosing its donors, that spends money in comparable amounts."
AFP states that it "mobilizes citizens to effectively make their voices heard in public policy issue campaigns" and "educates citizens about where their elected officials stand on our issues." AFP campaigns have included false attacks about health care reform, clean energy, economic issues, and elected Democrats like President Obama.
Fox News personalities are the public face of many AFP/AFPF events. Promotional materials heavily tout the speakers' affiliation with Fox News to increase attendance. According to a Media Matters review, the following Fox News personalities have participated in AFP and AFPF events since 2012: Guy Benson, Tucker Carlson, Monica Crowley, Jonah Goldberg, Greg Gutfeld, Mary Katharine Ham, Mike Huckabee, Laura Ingraham, Andrew Napolitano, Sarah Palin, Charles Payne, Dana Perino, John Stossel, Cal Thomas, and Juan Williams.
The Koch/Fox News events are aimed at rallying attendees to support conservative causes and fight progressive initiatives. For example, an invitation for a May event featuring Tucker Carlson stated the rally will "send a message to the Left that we know the truth and support free market solutions." Information for a November 2013 rally with Monica Crowley said participants will "learn how you can fight back against government restrictions, taxes, and out-of-control spending." And an October 2012 event with John Stossel was a "Hands Off My Health Care Rally" which sought "to fully repeal Obama's deeply flawed health care bill."
Media Matters previously documented how numerous Fox News personalities campaigned for Republican candidates and organizations during the 2011-2012 election cycle.
Conservative media are calling the Environmental Protection Agency's clarification of the Clean Water Act an "unprecedented land grab" that will regulate "nearly every drop of water." However, the proposed revision, which will help protect the drinking water of 117 million Americans, will not add any new categories of waters but will clarify that upstream sources will be protected from pollution.
After years of conservative media figures agitating for congressional Republicans to impeach President Obama, today House Speaker John Boehner announced plans to sue the president for not "faithfully executing the laws of this country."
Discussing the suit -- which would be filed on behalf of the House of Representatives -- Boehner claimed that it was "not about impeachment." But in a piece for The New Republic, Brian Beutler argues that conservatives' push to stir up outrage over Obama has led Republicans to seek a "relief valve for the building pressure to draw up articles of impeachment":
Having created a clamor within the GOP conference, and the conservative base, over Obama's use of executive power, Republicans now must satisfy the consequent appetite to do something about it. Suing Obama is meant to do that. The goal is to be head-turning enough to simultaneously address coalition management obligations--calm restive conservatives, keep the base energized--and serve as a relief valve for the building pressure to draw up articles of impeachment.
The risk is that it'll whet rather than diminish the right's appetite for impeachment. But Boehner doesn't have much choice. You can't gin up this much outrage over Obama's actions, and then do nothing to stop him, when the Constitution provides you so many tools to do just that.
Much of the building pressure for impeachment has come not only from congressional Republicans, but from conservative media figures, whose calls for impeachment have been a steady drumbeat since Obama took office.
Right-wing media have dishonestly portrayed recent reports of children fleeing across the U.S.-Mexico border to escape violence in Central America, even portraying the immigrants as dangerous disease-carriers, terrorists, and cartel members.
From the June 9 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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Conservatives have responded to the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl by attacking his father, questioning President Obama's sanity and patriotism, and calling for impeachment.
Several conservative media figures are floating the idea of impeaching President Obama over the recent release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
Numerous right-wing activists, media figures, and politicians have been trying to drum up a reason to impeach Obama ever since he took office more than five years ago. National Review writer and former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy released a new book today on subject, endeavoring to explain the "political case" for impeaching the president. In making his case, McCarthy rehashes a wide number of well-worn supposed scandals from the Obama administration. Fittingly, McCarthy has also been at the forefront of the latest calls for impeachment, arriving right as his book hits the shelves.
In comments on June 2 to the Daily Mail's website, the Mail Online, McCarthy reportedly called the exchange of Taliban figures for Bergdahl a "high crime and misdemeanor," because, he claimed, the administration did not sufficiently notify Congress of the planned transfer. The Mail article was quickly highlighted on the Drudge Report.
Appearing on Fox & Friends the next morning, Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano said Obama "may very well have committed a federal crime by giving material assistance to a terrorist organization." Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy responded by plugging McCarthy's book and pointing to his comments to the Mail Online about impeachment. Napolitano added that it was a "very, very valid argument that people are going to start talking about."
Later in the day, Fox News' Outnumbered host Sandra Smith asked "does this become an impeachable offense" and highlighted Napolitano's claim that "this breaks federal law."
Fox News contributor Allen West posted on his website, "the U.S. House of Representatives should file articles of impeachment against Barack Hussein Obama." He continued, "I submit that Barack Hussein Obama's unilateral negotiations with terrorists and the ensuing release of their key leadership without consult -- mandated by law -- with the U.S. Congress represents high crimes and misdemeanors, an impeachable offense."
With the outsized vitriol Barack Obama's presidency has inspired among conservatives, it's seemed inevitable that the right would try to find some reason to impeach him. For more than five years, fringe activists, conservative media, and various Republican politicians have invoked the specter of impeachment over any number of manufactured scandals and supposed outrages. In a new book out today, National Review writer and former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy tries to kickstart the movement in earnest, laying out the "political case" for impeaching the president.
Writing in the New Republic in 2010, liberal journalist Jonathan Chait predicted that if Republicans took control of the House of Representatives and Obama won a second term, "the House will vote to impeach him before he leaves office." He continued, "Wait, you say. What will they impeach him over? You can always find something." Indeed, for much of Obama's presidency, the prospect of impeachment has been a hammer in search of a nail.
While fringe activists have been agitating for impeachment for years, more mainstream conservatives have been considerably more reluctant.
In Faithless Execution: Building The Political Case For Obama's Impeachment, McCarthy tries to bridge the gap and build support for impeachment as a serious idea. The crux of McCarthy's argument is that despite what he sees as the rock-solid legal justification for impeaching Obama, Republicans cannot move forward with the effort without first convincing the public that removing the president from office is the right course of action. To do so without public backing would "look like partisan hackery. It would be worse than futile."
Slate's David Weigel explained in a piece last month about Republicans' recent push to impeach Obama "without looking crazy" that many of the supposed impeachable offenses highlighted in McCarthy's book have already "faded under the klieg lights of big media." (Though Weigel points out that McCarthy "puts some of the blame for that on Republicans" and their timidity over the issue of impeachment.)
While he's ostensibly trying to jumpstart popular support for removing Obama from office, McCarthy's book seems unlikely to win any new converts -- it's just more preaching to people already in the conservative media bubble (the first reference to frequent right-wing boogeyman Saul Alinsky comes in the third paragraph and the first invocation of "ACORN" follows shortly thereafter).
Half of Faithless Execution is comprised of McCarthy's draft Articles of Impeachment. The supposed outrages in the book are a mix of ongoing focuses of conservative ire -- "The Benghazi Fraud," and "The Obamacare Fraud," for example -- and long-forgotten Scandals of the Month like the "racially discriminatory" Justice Department's treatment of the New Black Panther Party. If all of these pseudo-scandals that conservatives flogged relentlessly weren't enough to keep Obama from winning a second term, it's hard to envision the public deciding they constitute justification for impeachment thanks to a reinvigorated push from Republicans.
Update: Faithless Execution's release comes amid a new wave of conservative calls for impeachment. This morning, Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano said Obama "may very well have committed a federal crime" with the release of Bowe Bergdahl. Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy responded by plugging McCarthy's book, and Napolitano highlighted McCarthy's comments to the Mail Online suggesting potential impeachment over Bergdahl. Napolitano added, "it's a very, very valid argument that people are going to start talking about." A few hours later, Fox News program Outnumbered returned to the impeachment subject, with host Sandra Smith asking, "does this become an impeachable offense?" Fellow Fox contributor Allen West was more forceful, posting on his website, "the U.S. House of Representatives should file articles of impeachment against Barack Hussein Obama."*
McCarthy concedes in the book, "As things currently stand, the public does not support impeachment -- no surprise, given that no substantial argument for impeachment has been attempted."
Whether or not McCarthy sees any of the other arguments as "substantial," the prospect of impeaching Obama has been a regular source of discussion for conservatives since shortly after the president took office. McCarthy's isn't even the first book to try to lay out the argument in serious fashion -- last year WND writer Aaron Klein and co-author Brenda Elliott released Impeachable Offenses: The Case for Removing Barack Obama from Office.
Media Matters looks back at some -- but far from all -- of conservatives' incessant calls for impeachment below.
From the June 3 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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From the June 2 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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Recent racist musings from the likes of rancher Cliven Bundy and LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling bring to light one of right-wing media's favorite misnomers -- that racism and bigotry are over. It's a dangerous fiction that's also surfaced in recent Supreme Court decisions, and one that provides cover for modern racists and policies that hurt minorities.
"Is there racism? I don't believe there's racism," asserted Fox News' Eric Bolling, echoing a refrain that's become common place inside the conservative bubble.
For example, Fox contributor Charles Krauthammer has argued that policies protecting against racial discrimination are no longer necessary because they're about giving "advantages to people who 50 years ago" were disadvantaged. Co-host of Fox's The Five Andrea Tantaros argued civil rights laws are no longer needed "because there is equality." According to Bill O'Reilly, racism is "an individual problem," "not a country problem," and America's sad history of discrimination is "all in the past."
This readiness to ignore the existence of racism provides cover for intolerance on the fringe. Over the last month, right-wing media propelled Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy to folk hero status for cheating the federal government out of millions, only to sprint away from him when was caught on tape wondering if black people were better off as slaves.
While many Fox News hosts and contributors eventually condemned Bundy and Sterling's racism, the rhetoric is largely reminiscent of right-wing media's stereotypes of minorities and denial of the existence of racism -- In the wake of their racist rants, both Bundy and Sterling denied they held any racist views.
Bundy and Sterling are extreme examples of cognitive dissonance, but the racism-denialist mindset is a pervasive and dangerous one.
Right-wing media's dismissal of racism has most recently surfaced in the wake of the recent April 22 Supreme Court decision in Schuette v. BAMN, that effectively overturned decades of civil rights precedent and gutted a core component of equal protection law by giving Michigan voters the power to change their state's constitution to ban race-based considerations for university admissions.
As Jeffrey Toobin described, the conservative majority took the position of "blame-shifting," suggesting that "the debate over affirmative action should and could take place in a genteel, controversy-free zone." He wrote:
Bundy and Sterling represent an ugly corner of contemporary American life, but it is one that is entirely invisible in recent Supreme Court rulings. In the Roberts Court, there are no Bundys and Sterlings; the real targets of the conservative majority are those who've spent their lives fighting the Bundys and Sterlings of the world.
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote about a country where the Bundys and Sterlings still hold considerable sway. Indeed, she went beyond the simple bigotry of the Bundys and Sterlings and found that more subtle wounds of racism still exist in this country. "Race matters," she wrote, "because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: 'I do not belong here.'"
Decisions made and policies created on the premise that racism no longer exists in America have incredibly damaging impacts on civil rights and minority communities.
The Supreme Court's recent decision in Michigan is evidence of that. The ruling opened a door for state majorities to change their political systems to unfairly disadvantage minorities -- a decision that has dangerous consequences, particularly in a state like Michigan where white Americans are the overwhelming majority. Such consequences are already being felt by minority students in Michigan. In addition to racist incidents and racial tensions on campuses around the country, the enrollment of African-American students in Michigan has seen a dramatic decrease.
The Supreme Court's recent tossing aside of history and legal precedent is reminiscent of the court's June 2013 blow to voting rights -- a decision also made on the premise that racism no longer exists in America, but in reality had a negative impact on minorities. In the June 25 decision, the conservative majority invalidated the provision within the Voting Rights Act that prevents states and local jurisdictions from enacting racially discriminatory election practices. States wasted no time after the Supreme Court's gutting of the Voting Rights Act pushing highly restrictive voting laws that history has shown serve to make it harder for minorities to cast a vote.
Apparently inside the conservative bubble, it's easy to praise such devastating policies so long as you deny the existence of racism at all, a refrain that ultimately helps keep discrimination alive.