Thursday, July 31, 2014

Go ahead, Impeach him

In High School I was a cynic. By college I was a realist. After sobriety I became an optimist. I certainly still have my moments of cynicism and realism – but in a world of difficulties and challenges I try to look for the good in things. Politics makes it very hard. Putting a good spin on bad news is something the Obama White House has mastered. The House of Representatives voted to sue the President over their belief that the Executive Branch hasn’t fulfilled its constitutional duties on the Affordable Care Act by providing waivers to components of the law. (Of course the irony is Congress has voted 37+ times to repeal the law they're suing the President to enforce.) The White House has spun this to be the first step towards impeachment, and the media has taken the story hook, line and sinker.

It’s not all fantasy - there are many in Congress who have called for the President’s impeachment. Rep. Steve Stockman even handed out copies of Impeachable Offenses –The Case For Removing Barack Obama From Office to every member of Congress.

Article II of the United States Constitution (Section 4) states that "The President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors." The House of Representatives has the sole power of impeaching, while the United States Senate has the sole power to try all impeachments. The removal of impeached officials is automatic upon conviction in the Senate. Only two U.S. Presidents have been impeached by the House of Representatives. Both were acquitted at the trials held by the Senate: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998/1999.

House Speaker John Boehner has said there were “no plans” for impeachment, calling the talk a Democratic tool to raise money.

The LA Times report supports the claim: “On Tuesday (July 30, 2014), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said the party had raised $7.6 million online since Boehner announced the suit in June, including $1 million collected Monday alone after incoming House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), during a network television interview, repeatedly refused to rule out the possibility of impeachment.”

I wrote about the lawsuit last month. Rather than attack any merits that the allegations have – the White House has framed the litigation as the first step towards the impeachment of the nation’s first black President.

The suit actually has legitimate concerns. Under the Constitution the Executive Office is required to implement the laws that Congress passes. It can’t just change them. In the case of the Affordable Care Act, when there were difficulties in the roll-out the President pushed back a number of the deadlines (notably the Employer mandate) without Congressional approval. This is important because it’s not just a technicality – it’s a key funding mechanism of the law. Historically as major legislation is implemented Congress and the Executive Branch work together to amend the law to work out the kinks. In this case Congress refused to make any changes, and the President just changed the rules claiming the ability to do so falls under the expansive authority allowed in implementing legislation. Usually a change that impacts the funding requires Congressional approval, so this will be an interesting case because technically Congress is right. But Congress is right only because it abdicated its responsibility to modify the law as it has throughout history. By tying the suit to impeachment, however, the Democrats are hoping to change the conversation to it being personal and political against Barack Obama. 

The case for Impeachment against President Obama could be strong, depending on one’s interpretation of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The President’s kill list – where he alone chooses whom to execute without the benefit of trial or any form of legal process could be defined as a high crime. And that doesn’t include looking at any of the civil rights issues with the NSA, drone attacks on foreign soil, etc.

George W. Bush could have been impeached for the high crime of sending Americans to war for made-up reasons. Those lies cost lives and treasure amongst other things. Then there’s his Administration’s bullying one bank to bail out another in clear violation of U.S. law. Not to mention the whole torturing of people after 9/11.

In each instance – Obama and Bush – there are good reasons to explore the actions. The political reality, though, is that there aren’t the votes to convict – now or under Bush. Congress has been complicit in the areas that would be explored for impeachment (in both cases) – so unless we’re really ready to throw out the whole bunch, this is just a clever turn-about by the White House. Oh my, is that cynicism creeping into my otherwise sunny disposition?

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