Iowa Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst waded back into controversial waters in June when, during a conversation with a conservative radio host, she again discussed impeaching President Barack Obama.
In January, Ernst had suggested that “impeachment” should be on the table if the Supreme Court decided against Obama on the question of recess appointments, which it later did. But Ernst walked back her comments on Tuesday after they were reported by Yahoo News and other media outlets, saying she herself was not calling for the second-term president to be removed from office over his power struggle with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Now it turns out that impeachment is something Ernst also discussed on a June 27 episode of the "Simon Conway Show." Her remarks on the conservative talk radio program, taped in Des Moines, showcase the tightrope Republican candidates can be forced to walk on conservative programs directed at their base voters. Issues that are seen as far outside the political mainstream, such as impeachment, can quickly become the hot topics of the day in highly charged partisan environments, opening up candidates to awkward and potentially problematic lines of questioning.
Ernst was encouraged by Conway to suggest that House Speaker John Boehner, who had recently announced plans to sue the administration over the president’s use of executive orders, should instead pursue impeachment.
“So, shouldn’t [Boehner] simply impeach him?” Conway asked Ernst during the radio show two weeks ago.
“Right,” she replied.
“If he thinks he has a case?” the host prodded.
“If he thinks he has a case, then he should proceed with that,” Ernst said.
“With impeachment?” the host pushed again.
“Yeah. And that would be up to him. I’m not encouraging or discouraging it. John Boehner is making John Boehner’s choices. But, we know we have a long ways to go, and I think this election is going to be that turning point,” Ernst continued.
On Wednesday, Boehner said he disagreed with former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s call on Tuesday to impeach Obama.
It’s clear from the June recording that Ernst neither raised the topic herself nor called outright for the impeachment of the president. And she can be heard laughing nervously at first in response to Conway’s question, before agreeing with him that Boehner should consider impeachment as an option if he thinks he has a case.
Ernst sought to clarify her views in a statement issued to Yahoo News on Tuesday night. “To be clear, I have not seen any evidence that the President should be impeached,” the statement said.
“I responded by saying that if the court in fact made such a ruling, that the president should face the necessary repercussions. I would give the same answer about any president, Republican or Democrat,” Ernst said about the line of questioning she faced at the winter GOP forum in January.
Ernst easily won a contested Republican primary in June, but she is in a tight race with Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley to replace retiring, longtime Democratic Senator Tom Harkin. In 2007, Braley voted with a majority of Democrats on a failed effort to open floor debate on an impeachment resolution on then-Vice President Dick Cheney. Braley then cast a procedural vote to send the impeachment resolution to the House Judiciary Committee, a maneuver that effectively killed the effort. Then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi had said she did not want to see articles of impeachment on the floor.
Obama won Iowa in both 2008 and 2012, though his job approval ratings in the state recently hit an all-time low of 36 percent among voting-age Iowans, according to the Des Moines Register.