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Rep. Steve Israel: why 'impeachment' talk is a winner for Democrats

Rep. Steve Israel calls on Republicans to drop talk of impeachment and lawsuits. But he also notes that Democrats raised $1 million in a day on that theme, which could also deliver higher voter turnout in November. 

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Rep. Steve Israel (D) of New York, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, speaks at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor in Washington on Tuesday.

For Democrats, impeachment talk is turning out to be the goose that lays the golden eggs, dropping $1 million in one day into Democratic coffers, according to Rep. Steve Israel (D) of New York.

“At 1 o’clock this morning, I got an e-mail from our online fundraising department telling me that yesterday we raised $1 million online. In one day. In one day,” said Congressman Israel, who is tasked with helping elect Democrats to the House, at a Monitor breakfast with reporters on Tuesday.

Over the weekend, Democratic solicitations based on some GOP calls for impeachment and a pending GOP lawsuit against President Obama brought in $2.1 million in online donations to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the party’s campaign arm chaired by Israel.

“The Republican strategy of lawsuits and approaching impeachment is fundamentally misfiring,” said Israel. It may gin up the GOP base, but it is “moving our base in a big way.”

The Republican leadership in the House is quick to remind the news media that Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio has flatly ruled out impeachment. Over the weekend, the new House whip, Rep. Steve Scalise (R) of Louisiana, said that it is the White House that is pushing the impeachment idea.

“This might be the first White House in history that’s trying to start the narrative of impeaching their own president,” he said on Fox News Sunday.

At the breakfast, Israel sprinkled the word "impeachment" like salt and pepper, even while denying GOP claims that this is a strategy. “It’s not our strategy…. This is what [Republicans] believe. And in their most recent CNN poll, 57 percent of their base believes it. They’re pushing it because they believe it in their souls, or because they believe it in their political calculations.”

It may work to turn out the GOP base, he said, “but it’s not going to work for this country, and I wish they would just give it up.” He pointed out that Mr. Scalise, a strong conservative, never denied impeachment as a possibility when he spoke on Fox. “He breathed new life into it.”

The impeachment talk “is something close to a no-lose proposition for the Democrats. They can raise money off of it AND make the GOP look extreme, which is strategy Nos. 1, 2, and 3 in the Democratic playbook,” says Kyle Kondick of the University of Virginia Center for Politics in an e-mail. “That said, I think Israel is being a bit overoptimistic in his hopes that this will really gin up [Democratic] turnout.”

Turnout is the key for Democrats, who are fighting the historic trend of midterm-election disinterest by voters and low presidential approval ratings in the president’s party. Democrats this cycle are also fighting the results of 2010 redistricting that favored Republicans. The Virginia Center for Politics, for instance, forecasts a GOP gain of five to eight seats in the House this fall. The Cook Political report puts the gain at two to 12 seats, if the election were held today.

Israel, however, said he’s not looking at predictions of seat gains or losses, but at factors that Democrats can control: mobilization, money, and message.

Recognizing the need to up their game, Israel says he started six months earlier this election cycle and doubled the budget for field workers. House Democrats are ahead of House Republicans in campaign fundraising. They are targeting women voters with issues such as paycheck fairness, and he predicts that education is a sleeper topic that will “erupt” among suburban families struggling with student debt.

He described their message as one of daily contrasts between “Republicans who are obsessed with lawsuits and appear to be moving closer to impeachment, and Democrats who are focused on the economy.”

There’s that I-word again.

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