WASHINGTON (AP) — Some Republican lawmakers seem to be trying to delegitimize a Hillary Clinton presidency before it's clear there will be one. They are threatening to block her Supreme Court nominees, investigate her endlessly, or even impeach her.
Perhaps it's no surprise in an election in which the GOP nominee, Donald Trump, has branded his opponent "Crooked Hillary," and shouts of "lock her up!" are a staple at his rallies. Few Republicans appear eager to suggest a new era of bipartisan deal-making with a candidate widely seen by GOP voters as untrustworthy.
But the rhetoric is striking because newly elected presidents traditionally enjoy a honeymoon period with Congress and the public.
For Clinton, the honeymoon appears to be over even before it's clear she will be elected.
"I would say yes, high crime or misdemeanor," GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said this week in an interview with the Beloit Daily News, arguing that with her handling of emails Clinton had crossed the constitutionally established threshold for impeachment proceedings.
GOP Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, in an interview Wednesday on Fox News Channel, suggested that the Clinton email investigation might lead toward indictment. "At that point in time under the Constitution, the House of Representatives would engage in an impeachment trial," McCaul said.
Those comments follow recent remarks by GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Richard Burr of North Carolina and John McCain of Arizona suggesting that they will oppose any and all Supreme Court nominations Clinton might make.
McCain walked his comment back, saying any nominee would be considered. But Burr told GOP volunteers, in private remarks leaked to CNN, that he would aim to keep the existing vacancy on the Supreme Court open throughout Clinton's term.
Burr and McCain, like Johnson, are locked in competitive re-election races as the Senate majority hangs in the balance. For Burr in particular an energized GOP base may be key to his victory.
President Barack Obama took on Burr during an appearance Wednesday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, criticizing him and congressional Republicans for bringing on gridlock.
"You've got some Republicans in Congress already suggesting they will impeach Hillary. She hasn't even been elected yet!" Obama said. "How does our democracy function like that?"
In the House, Republicans already spent more than two years and $7 million investigating Clinton's role while secretary of state in the attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.
Yet GOP lawmakers, who are likely to retain their majority in the House, show no sign that their investigative zeal is dampening. That's especially true in light of the FBI's announcement Friday that it is looking at a new batch of emails in connection with its closed investigation of Clinton's handling of classified material.
"The more we learn about the FBI's initial investigation into Secretary Clinton's unauthorized use of a private email server, the more questions we have," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said in a statement. "I will continue to press the FBI and Justice Department for answers on these issues but so far they have been stonewalling Congress."
GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a leading conservative in the House, said in a statement that regardless of who wins the election, "we need to continue investigating Secretary Clinton's email scandal, and alleged impropriety between the State Department and Clinton Foundation. We must also move forward with impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen."
Democrats have long accused some Republicans of trying to delegitimize President Barack Obama, including when Trump and others questioned for years whether the president was really born in this country. Now the GOP's pre-emptive attacks on Clinton are raising Democratic hackles once again, although it could backfire politically for Republicans. The GOP-led House's impeachment proceeding against Bill Clinton in 1998 was unpopular with voters.
The GOP's top congressional leaders, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, have notably passed up opportunities to dispute some of the more extreme comments from their rank-and-file.
McConnell's spokesman, Don Stewart, declined to say Wednesday whether McConnell agreed with Johnson's suggestion that Clinton should face impeachment proceedings. Ryan is to campaign with Johnson in Wisconsin on Friday, but aides to the speaker did not respond when asked whether Ryan agreed with Johnson that Clinton committed high crimes and misdemeanors.
Appearing Wednesday on the Hugh Hewitt radio show, Ryan passed over a comment Hewitt made suggesting impeachment might be in the offing for Clinton, but said: "This is what life is like with the Clintons. There's always a scandal. And then there's always an investigation. ... Do we really want to, knowing this, have a person come into the White House automatically under suspicion, under investigation?"