Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

A closer look at claims on impeachment, House lawsuit

Members Congress climb the steps of the U.S. House of Representatives for votes on July 31, 2014.
Members Congress climb the steps of the U.S. House of Representatives for votes on July 31, 2014.

As lawmakers head home for their August recess, there’s lots of election-year skirmishing between Democrats and Republicans. We recently looked at some claims surrounding one of the high-profile irritants -- the Republican-led lawsuit against President Barack Obama and the possibility, denied by GOP leaders, that House Republicans could seek Obama’s impeachment.

On July 30, the House voted to sue Obama for allegedly overstepping the powers of his office, largely along party lines. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., decried the action, saying in a fundraising pitch, "The House of Representatives has never sued a sitting president in all of U.S. history."

We found that she’s right the House as a whole has never sued the president. However, individual lawmakers and groups of lawmakers have sued the president in the past. In fact, we found at least 14 instances in the last four decades alone.

Since Pelosi said "the House of Representatives," her narrowly crafted claim was correct. So we rated her statement True.

During the floor debate over authorizing the lawsuit against Obama, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, suggested that Democrats had the moral high ground. Even though some Democrats thought that President George W. Bush had abused his authority when he initiated the Iraq War, the House, while under Democratic control in 2007 and 2008, did not impeach him.

In a floor speech on July 30, Jackson Lee said, "We did not seek an impeachment of President Bush because as an executive, he had his authority."

If Jackson Lee means to define "we" as the Democratic caucus as a whole, she has a point. The resolution never gained wide support among the Democrats, even though they controlled Congress at the time. The bill died quietly in committee.

However, Jackson Lee is an imperfect vehicle for making this charge. A dozen House Democrats in 2008 did introduce a resolution seeking the impeachment of Bush. And Jackson Lee was one of the measure’s 11 co-sponsors.

It seems hypocritical of the congresswoman to seize the moral high ground -- essentially saying that her party gallantly went against self-interest by declining to seek Bush’s impeachment -- when in fact she personally had sought precisely that outcome. On balance, we rated her claim Mostly False.

• PunditFact expanded upon the work of Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com, who looked at Lexis-Nexis transcripts and found that MSNBC, which is generally considered to lean liberal, has mentioned the terms "impeach" or "impeachment" 448 times in July, compared to just 95 mentions on Fox, which is considered conservative.

PunditFact crunched the numbers using Critical Mention, an archive of TV coverage that has a wider collection of material. PunditFact found that Silver’s overall analysis holds, though with even more mentions on both networks.

As Silver suggested, the increase in media mentions may be working toward their intended effect. Politico reported that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and the House Majority PAC all have been fundraising using the impeachment saga as a foil. Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the impeachment talk is a "scam" by Democrats.

Here’s the full PunditFact report.