House Democratic leaders wasted no time Wednesday accusing Republicans of voting to sue President Obama as a first step toward their real goal: the impeachment of the Democratic president.
"This isn't about this lawsuit," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said during a briefing in the Capitol immediately after the lawsuit vote. "This is about the road to impeachment."
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has argued the lawsuit is a necessary measure to rein in a president the Republicans accuse of habitually abusing his executive authority. But the Speaker has said repeatedly that GOP leaders have no intention of impeaching Obama – a message he amplified on Tuesday.
“We have no plan to impeach the president,” Boehner told reporters.
Such words, however, have been little assurance to the Democrats, who are quick to point out that Boehner has frequently struggled to control the conservative bloc of his GOP conference.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, noted that Boehner had also vowed a year ago not to allow a government shutdown amid a partisan budget fight.
"But they did shut down the United States government," Van Hollen said. "So the Speaker can say they're only interested in filing a lawsuit [and] they're not interested in impeachment. But those are the kinds of things he said last September with respect to a government shutdown. And at the end of the day, we know what they did."
Pelosi said Boehner could put the issue to rest by simply coming out more forcefully against those conservatives urging impeachment.
"The Speaker has to say one simple sentence: 'Impeachment is off the table,'" she said.
Pelosi compared the scenario to her own speakership, when a number of liberal Democrats were calling to impeach President George W. Bush over the Iraq War, and Pelosi explicitly ruled the option out of bounds.
"That's what I had to say in 2007," Pelosi said. "That's what Speaker Boehner should be saying now."
The Democrats have seized on both the lawsuit and the perceived impeachment threat as a highly successful fundraising tool. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has raised millions of dollars on the issue since last Thursday when the Rules Committee advanced the lawsuit bill to the floor, marking the group's greatest haul of this election cycle.
And DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) said Wednesday that he has no intention of giving up that strategy as Congress leaves Washington for a long August vacation.
"Anytime a Republican majority in the House of Representatives makes a determination that they should focus all of their energy on discussing impeachment of the president, and suing the president, you bet that you can expect that our supporters are going to be energized," Israel said.
"Many Americans are going to be disgusted and are going to act on that disgust by seeking an alternative."
Pelosi said the GOP's lawsuit, designed at least in part to rally conservative voters ahead of November's elections, had backfired.
"Much of the support that has sprung from all of this discussion has been spontaneous. People are just angry," she said. "I believe [it was] part of their agenda to motivate their base, to energize their base. But they energized ours, and they turned off the middle."