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Back to the future: Benghazi, Republicans and the urge to impeach

Are US Republicans set to attempt to impeach another Democratic president? Utah representative Jason Chaffetz suggested US president Barack Obama could face impeachment over his administration’s response…

A US flag lies in the wreckage of the Benghazi consulate, stormed on September 11 2012 in an attack that saw the US ambassador and three others killed. EPA/Stringer

Are US Republicans set to attempt to impeach another Democratic president?

Utah representative Jason Chaffetz suggested US president Barack Obama could face impeachment over his administration’s response to the attacks against the American embassy in Benghazi nine months ago. “They purposefully and willfully misled the American people,” Chaffetz claimed, “and that’s unacceptable.”

Chaffetz was not the first Republican to float the idea of impeachment over Benghazi. A week earlier, Oklahoma senator James Inhofe told radio host Rusty Humphries: “People may be starting to use the I-word before too long".

“The I-word meaning ‘impeachment’?” Humphries clarified. Inhofe confirmed that was the one, though he noted successfully impeaching the president would first require Republicans to win control of the Senate.

It would require a good deal more than that, however. Because nine months of Republican-led accusations and investigations have ended not with a bang but a whimper. Inhofe said of Benghazi:

Of all the great cover-ups in history — the Pentagon Papers, Iran-Contra, Watergate, all the rest of them — this … is going to go down as the most egregious cover-up in American history.

Inhofe’s statement is useful as a study in hyperbole but little else. When the White House released emails that showed how the administration developed its talking points on Benghazi for the media, “the most egregious cover-up in American history” turned out to be a bit of interagency squabbling mixed with caution about getting ahead of an unfolding national security story layered with classified information. “I was told there was going to be a cover-up,” Slate’s John Dickerson huffed after reading the hundred pages of Benghazi emails. Instead he found, as Obama said at a recent press conference, “There is no there there.”

So if there is no “there” in the Benghazi cover-up, what’s behind all the impeachment talk?

Impeachment threats have become a second-term rite of passage. Whispers of “impeachment” have become a hallmark of second-term presidents since Richard Nixon resigned from office four decades ago. During the first four years of a presidency, the opposition party focuses on preventing re-election. In the lead-up to the 2010 midterm elections (in which the GOP won historic victories), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made this focus clear. “The single most important thing we want to achieve,” he said in an interview, “is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Failing that, the opposition tries to oust the president through impeachment. For Ronald Reagan, it was the Iran-Contra hearings. For Bill Clinton, it was sex in the Oval Office. For George W. Bush, it was 35 articles of impeachment largely revolving around the Iraq War. The Republicans are making their first impeachment bid on Benghazi, but should that fail they have the IRS and AP phone records scandals waiting in the wings.

Impeachment is another form of obstructionism. The current GOP has made an art form of blocking legislation. The last major bill to pass the Senate was the Dodd-Frank financial-reform legislation. It passed on July 15, 2010. For those keeping track: that’s more than 1,000 days ago.

When it comes to Obama’s second-term agenda, the GOP would like to see that trend continue. Every day spent scandal-squashing is a day not spent on other legislative priorities. The White House Chief of Staff has mandated White House staff allocate no more than 10% of its time to scandal management. The Republicans would like to tack an extra zero on that percentage.

President Obama and former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announce the Benghazi attacks in late 2012. Will Obama now face impeachment for his handling of the affair? EPA/Michael Reynolds

Impeachment talk escalates the sense of scandal. So far, the American people haven’t gotten exercised about Benghazi. Yes, a recent CNN poll shows the majority thinks it’s an important issue, but those numbers are largely driven by Republican respondents. Moderates and Democrats tend to trust that the Obama administration was acting on the best information it had at the time.

The Benghazi story is confusing. It seems to largely be about the talking points Ambassador Susan Rice used on the Sunday morning shows five days after the Benghazi attacks. The GOP has called her comments “misleading". Yet Americans haven’t managed much outrage over being misled. The public expects spin on the Sunday shows, and they grant a good deal of leeway on national security issues. With nothing to shock the conscience, all Republicans can do is elevate the appearance of scandal. Rattling on about impeachment is one way to do that.

Impeachment talk over Benghazi is the Republicans’ opening gamut for 2016. Should Hillary Clinton run in 2016, she will be a lock for the Democratic nomination and a formidable candidate in the general election. Already well-liked by Democrats, her popularity skyrocketed during her tenure as Secretary of State.

Which is why turning the administration’s response to Benghazi into “high crimes and misdemeanors” is so critical for Republicans. Clinton was Secretary of State during the attacks; the State Department played a key role in drafting the talking points. Republican response on Benghazi before the 2012 election centred primarily on Obama, but since then has come to encompass Clinton as well. When Rusty Humphries interviewed Senator Inhofe about impeachment, both Inhofe and Humphries focused on Clinton more than Obama. Expect that trend to continue as Republicans try to bloody Clinton up in advance of 2016.

So for all the talk of impeachment, will Obama face impeachment hearings? Don’t count on it. The Clinton impeachment hearings damaged the Democratic administration, but they damaged the Republicans even more.

The memory of that overreach has led some Republican leaders to urge caution and restraint.

But given its utility for obstruction and destruction, while the reality of impeachment is remote, the rhetoric of impeachment is here to stay.

Join the conversation

23 Comments sorted by

  1. Ken Swanson

    Geologist

    Another piece of "Obama Love" journalism from this starry eyed Democratic contributor.

    She was incredibly pro Democrat and anti Republican in the articles posted on the Conversation in the lead up to the US election and this is another one.

    Low credibility as an impartial commentary in my view.

    Clinton and Obama have a case to answer on how they bent the facts when informing the US people about Benghazi because it was only weeks before the US election and they wanted to look good. The MSM…

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    1. Ken Swanson

      Geologist

      In reply to Ken Swanson

      "Yet Americans haven’t managed much outrage over being misled. The public expects spin on the Sunday shows, and they grant a good deal of leeway on national security issues."

      There is no outrage because the facts are not being published. The MSM and CNN are not covering these stories. Thank God for Rupert Murdoch, he is the only one who holds these arrogant self righteous left wing politicians to account.

      Contrast this with the coverage of George Bush and the New Orleans cyclone. The MSM hammered him on a slow response and yet the issues around the murder of a US Ambassador are trivialised as being just partisan attacks on saint Barrie Obama.

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    2. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ken Swanson

      "....Thank God for Rupert Murdoch, he is the only one who holds these arrogant self righteous left wing politicians to account...."

      This is Poe - right?

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    3. Chris Reynolds

      Education Consultant

      In reply to Ken Swanson

      Yes Ken. But the facts to some extent speak for themselves. Republicans seem currently to specialism in a kind of political terrorism using every political device they can to delay obstruct and obscure the direction a Lincolnian president would take the country.

      However, not even they can stem the tide of regrowth in the American economy aided by the constructive and inspirational leadership of the current white House and Administration.

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    4. Chris Reynolds

      Education Consultant

      In reply to Ken Swanson

      Yes Ken I thank God for Rupert Murdoch on a daily basis. He is the only one outrageous enough to think that he can run the world from his living room. It has been a delusion of his for decades and he is quite firm in his resolve to remain on the surface of this globe until world domination has been achieved.

      The best part of it is that he is one of ours (despite having to change his stars to stripes by taking US citizenship)

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    5. Ken Swanson

      Geologist

      In reply to Chris Reynolds

      "He is the only one outrageous enough to think that he can run the world from his living room. It has been a delusion of his for decades and he is quite firm in his resolve to remain on the surface of this globe until world domination has been achieved."

      An outrageous assertion which denigrates Mr Murdoch.

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    6. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ken Swanson

      "....An outrageous assertion which denigrates Mr Murdoch..."

      All hail Rupert Murdoch!

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  2. Michael Shand

    Software Tester

    Great Article, its amazing what they choose to focus on and what they ignore

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  3. Wil B

    B.Sc, GDipAppSci, MEnvSc, Environmental Planner

    "The last major bill to pass the Senate was the Dodd-Frank financial-reform legislation. It passed on July 15, 2010. "

    WTF? The US is broken. And it was the Republican loonies that broke it. They just can't stand the thought of a black man in the White House.

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    1. Ken Swanson

      Geologist

      In reply to Wil B

      So the Republicans can't stand blacks in power?

      The first black US Secretary of State and the second were both appointed by George Bush, a Republican. The second Ms Rice, I hope runs for President next time as she is truly an outstanding person.

      Prior to this, I did not notice the famous Democratic Party ever appoint a black to positions anywhere near a senior as this, despite all their rhetoric about human rights, affirmative action and racial equality. They see themselves as the party of conscience but always come up short, just like this Benghazi mess.

      As in Australia where the LNP was the first party to endorse an aboriginal man to a winnable lower house seat and then see him actually sit in the House of Representatives, parties of the left or the so called progressive parties always talk a good game, but that is where it ends.

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    2. Chris Reynolds

      Education Consultant

      In reply to Ken Swanson

      Ken again you seem to miss the point. Who was actually running the show while the black folks were running around under the Bushes and the white fellas running the LNP?

      The feminists currently have something to be cheerful about since from top to bottom the show in Oz is currently run by sheilas. It took a labour government to do that. So what? Again, look at the obstructionism from the Congressional Republicans and you can see so what. How to stuf a super power in a few easy lessons.

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    3. Ken Swanson

      Geologist

      In reply to Chris Reynolds

      The clear implication of your original comment was that the Republican Party was racist because "They just can't stand the thought of a black man in the White House"

      I am saying that this assertion is not correct and the examples of having appointed Rice and Powell is evidence of this.

      You on the other hand can produce no evidence for your baseless assertion.

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    4. Ken Swanson

      Geologist

      In reply to Chris Reynolds

      "Again, look at the obstructionism from the Congressional Republicans"

      The opposition parties have their own platforms everywhere in the world. The Republicans did not support Obama Care because it is against their party platform of a private healthcare model not a public one. Obama did not compromise on anything either and so they opposed it.

      Likewise when John Howard brought in Work Choices, the ALP opposed it because it was in conflict with their party platform. If they had had the numbers it would not have passed. Would this have been seen as obstructionism? I doubt it.

      So what are you saying? Because you like Obama no one else should exercise their democratic right to oppose him.

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    5. Chris Reynolds

      Education Consultant

      In reply to Ken Swanson

      It's all a matter of degree surely. I would argue that Abbott too has been obstructionist in the current Australian parliament. By htar I mean he has been unwilling to acknowledge the mandate of the elected government to put its policies in place. He will of course demand that such a mandate if awarded to his party be acknowledged by his political opponents.

      On the matter of the Carbon Price for example, there was a clear majority in both parliaments but he has run a fear campaign (the mother of all....) quite contrary to the market driven approach usually associated with his party. Indeed he has replaced it with a so-called Direct Action policy of which Stalin and Mao would indeed have been proud.

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    6. Ken Swanson

      Geologist

      In reply to Chris Reynolds

      If Abbott wins in September he will definitely have a mandate to repeal the carbon tax.

      Are you saying the ALP and especially the Greens should wave this repeal through? Is that what you are advocating?

      Christine Milne has already said that irrespective of who wins the election she would not support the repeal of the carbon tax. Is she therefore an obstructor by your definition or do you just have a double standard?

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    7. Gab Mellick

      NMD

      In reply to Ken Swanson

      Wow..media brainwashing techniques!!!

      I shouldn't mention here the effect of solar and cosmic activity, and the eight hundreds years global heating and cooling cycle, vulcanos emissions etc.!! Any idea how to keep this volcanic ash in the atmosphere?? I know that the bush fire season across USA and Australia this year alone will negate our efforts to reduce carbon in our world..for minimum next two or three years.
      Our government will try to impose a whopping carbon tax on us on the basis of…

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  4. Mike Swinbourne

    logged in via Facebook

    This article highlights what is wrong with politics - not only in the US, but also in this country.

    The opposition parties have forgotten that they are also supposed to be part of the responsible governing of the country, and spend all their time obstructing and spouting three word slogans instead of articulating credible alternative policies, and negotiating acceptable legislative outcomes.

    No wonder the debate has become so polarised, and voters are completely dissatisfied with their elected respresentatives.

    A pox on the lot of them!

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  5. Myk Somerville

    logged in via Twitter

    "They purposefully and wilfully misled the American people,” Chaffetz claimed, “and that’s unacceptable".

    And yet......Iraq. George Bush.

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  6. Sean Lamb

    Science Denier

    The "scandal" seems to be the paradigm that both parties use to energise their true believers.
    Trouble is we lose the ability to detect and generate real outrage.
    A president that presided over an intelligence community that falsified a case for war and not a single person held accountable?
    A president that settles on a death list over his morning coffee?
    A raid that kills Osama bin Laden where not a single supporting document can be uncovered by FOI requests?

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  7. Gordon Roesler

    Visiting Researcher & Senior Project Engineer, Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research at UNSW Australia

    Dr. Hemmer, you are absolutely correct that these Republicans have the wrong focus. The important issue in Benghazi is that Americans were in mortal danger, they called for help, and no one came. That is not the response Americans expect from our government, particularly our lavishly funded military. The explanations for that abdication have been vague, varied and inadequate. Stories have circulated about rescue attempts ordered to stand down; the truth is still somewhere in the shadows.

    I can envision the following scenario on the evening of September 11, 2012:

    WHITE HOUSE PERSON 1: "The diplomatic facility in Benghazi is under attack. The ambassador is there."

    WHITE HOUSE PERSON 2: "Well for God's sake let's not attempt a rescue. Remember what happened to Carter? That failed rescue cost him the election."

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