Impeach the President? History Isn't on GOP's Side

Pete Souza/The White House

They say that history repeats itself, but when it comes to impeachment, Republicans may have learned their lesson the first time.

Speaker John Boehner insisted Tuesday that Republicans had "no plans to impeach the president," calling talk of removing President Obama from office "a scam started by Democrats at the White House."

But Dan Pfeiffer, a senior White House adviser, told reporters last Friday the House has "opened the door" to impeaching the president by filing a lawsuit against him over changes made to the health care law that were not approved by Congress.

So why are Republican leaders apparently steering away from trying to oust the president?

One reason may be that it didn't make too many people happy the last time.

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With midterms around the corner and a majority in the Senate up for grabs, Republicans have a lot of chips on the table. The GOP needs public opinion on their side, and based on what happened last time, impeachment likely won't get them there.

The GOP-controlled House impeached former President Bill Clinton in December 1998. But the American people didn't seem to side with the Republicans, according to ABC News/Washington Post polls at the time.

Almost six in 10 Americans said they were dissatisfied - or even angry - when the House voted to impeach Clinton. And 62 percent disapproved of how Senate Republicans handled the following trial.

And only a third wanted the Senate to remove him from office over the Monica Lewinsky affair.

What's more - six in 10 Americans said the House voted to impeach Clinton based on partisan politics instead of the facts of the case and 74 percent thought the same thing about the Senate.

The number of Americans identifying themselves as Republicans fell to match a then 15-year low at the time of the impeachment vote - a potential shot in the foot at a time when Republicans were working to unify their base.

Of course, there would be several differences this time around: for example, Clinton's approval rating was a solid 67 percent at the time of his impeachment, while Obama's now is 46 percent.

But few observers believe that Republicans who are looking to mobilize a splintered electorate and pick up the six seats they need to win control of the Senate see an impeachment battle as the way forward.