At a Republican Party dinner on Monday night, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas had a simple response when asked why the president won't be impeached (which he called "a good question"). In short: you need votes from the Senate. But that is the simple rejection of his argument in favor of blocking Obamacare.
You can hear the exchange at the 39:30 mark at right. The National Review, which posted the audio, transcribes the beginning of his response. "I’ll tell you the simplest answer: To successfully impeach a president you need the votes in the U.S. Senate."
First of all, it's incorrect. Impeachment itself is solely the province of the House of Representatives, as defined by the Constitution. (Perhaps Canada's is different.) The trial that results form the impeachment is the domain of the Senate; it is the trial that would be a non-starter among Democrats. This is a basic distinction, one that even Rep. Blake Farenthold seemed to get.
But second of all, this is exactly opposed to Cruz's quixotic push for a government shutdown aimed at blocking Obamacare. That effort, led by Sen. Mike Lee but embraced by Cruz with gusto, suggests that the House could pass a government funding bill that excludes money for health reform and then tell the Senate to either approve that bill or else nothing would move forward. The response from others in Cruz's party has echoed Cruz's argument against impeachment. "Do you think Harry Reid is going to pass that in the Senate?" asked Rep. Robert Pittenger earlier this month. "[D]efunding Obamacare, with President Obama in the White House and Harry Reid in the Senate, I think is next to impossible," Sen. Ron Johnson said.
This is an argument Cruz rejects, as he did to the Daily Caller. "If Harry Reid and the Democrats are willing to shut down the government for a law that Americans don’t want, that’s their decision. And they should be held accountable." Let's give it a shot, he's saying, and force the Senate kill the idea.
If anything, an impeachment vote — however tenuously connected to the idea that there should be some "high crimes and misdemeanors" around — is easier than the budget vote. It doesn't need the Senate; the upper chamber merely decides if the president should be removed from office. A bill to fund the government requires compromise. An impeachment needs a majority of the House.
Cruz has been heralded by conservatives like RedState's Erick Erickson for his adamance on the issue of defunding Obamacare. "[T]he strategy, articulated by Senator Ted Cruz at the RedState Gathering, is really simple — Just. Don’t. Blink," Erickson writes. In that Daily Caller interview, Cruz indicated how important activism is:
We can get the votes we need to defund Obamacare if the grassroots rise up in huge numbers to force their elected officials to do the right thing before late September. If this happens and if Republicans have the political will to stand firm for their principles, we can succeed.
Why wouldn't that apply to impeachment? If Cruz thought that there wasn't a grass roots push on impeachment, he's mistaken. A group called "Overpasses for Obama's Impeachment" already has 35,000 likes on its Facebook page. It's been written-up by Twitchy, Michelle Malkin's tweet-aggregating website. Here's a photo of one of the protests, which seem mostly to be people standing on highway overpasses, holding signs calling for the president's impeachment and waving flags and such.
Overpass for Obama's impeachment pic.twitter.com/IOLIRv3A1r— garrett chastain (@garrettchastain) August 17, 2013
Maybe not "huge numbers," but there are people engaged. Because in the popular understanding, "impeach" means basically the same thing as "recall": a thing you do if you don't like the president. People like the idea that a president they don't like can just be impeached, whisked away and replaced with, well, in this case, Joe Biden. (Probably not what the protestors had in mind.)
That's the other corollary to Cruz's anti-Obamacare push. It's no less unlikely and irrational an effort than impeachment, but it's the one to which Cruz has hitched his star for 2016. He rejects the idea of impeachment not because it is any less practical than shutting down the entire federal government in a (futile) attempt to end the president's health care reforms. He rejects it because it is not his hobbyhorse.