House GOP wonders if it could impeach Obama

By Stewart M. Powell


WASHINGTON – With one eye on the 2014 midterm elections and the other on the battle for the White House in 2016, House Republicans on Tuesday conducted a largely academic investigation into the legal standards for impeaching a sitting president.


Republican lawmakers devoted a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee to gently questioning four invited legal scholars for three and a half hours about whether President Obama had “crossed the line” with a series of “unilateral” executive actions that allegedly bypassed Congress or ignored federal laws.



The hearing came three weeks after 11 House Republicans, led by Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, prepared to lodge four articles of impeachment against Attorney General Eric Holder for allegedly violating federal law. If adopted by the Republican-led House, the charges could lead to a high-profile Senate trial to remove Holder from office before the 2014 mid-term congressional elections.


“President Obama is the first president since Richard Nixon to ignore a duly enacted law simply because he disagrees with it,” insisted Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the powerful panel and the official whose staff selected the witnesses. “In place of the checks and balances established by the Constitution, President Obama has proclaimed that, ‘I refuse to take no for an answer,’ and that ‘Where Congress won’t act, I will.’ ”


‘Rhetorical wasteland’


Democrats largely boycotted the hearing that had all the hallmarks of carefully staged political theater.


Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, dubbed the legalistic marathon “a rhetorical wasteland.” Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., stepped into the hearing room late in the proceedings to pointedly emphasize that no one had called directly for Obama’s impeachment.


Republican critics cited a variety of presidential actions that they said might serve as the basis for impeachment proceedings that could be initiated by the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee.


Examples included bombing Libya without congressional authorization; delaying implementation of some provisions of Obamacare; waiving immigration restrictions to enable children of illegal immigrants to remain in the United States; easing federal drug enforcement in states that have legalized the medicinal or recreational use of marijuana; ending mandatory minimum prison sentences for some drug offenses; and permitting the Internal Revenue Service to scrutinize conservative organizations’ applications for non-profit, tax exempt status.


Two presidents have faced impeachment proceedings brought by the House – Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999. Both executives were acquitted by the Senate.


“Some of the standing questions may well be tricky, but again, the ultimate check on presidential lawlessness is elections and, in extreme cases, impeachment,” testified Nicholas Rosenkranz, a law professor at Georgetown University law school. “I don’t think you should be hesitant to speak the word (impeachment) in this room.” Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, a former Harris County criminal court judge and prosecutor for 22 years, said framers of the Constitution described the powers of Congress before those of the president, underscoring congressional authority over the chief executive.


“We are proud of the fact that we are a country of laws, not people,” Poe said. “But yet we are in a situation where the law means different things to different people and it isn’t enforced.”


Simon Lazarus, senior counsel for the Constitutional Accountability Center, which promotes “the progressive promise” of the Constitution, rejected Republicans’ criticisms.


“The various critiques being vetted here of the Affordable Care Act and other Obama administrative initiatives reflect political and policy-driven criticisms routine in a democratic polity, especially one as polarized as we are today,” said Lazarus, a veteran of President Jimmy Carter’s White House domestic policy staff. “Attempts to wrap those arguments in the Constitution just thicken the political fog. They deserve no attention from people who are seriously interested in evaluating competing policy and political claims, or in facilitating rather than obstructing resolution of those differences.”