Until last week the talk had largely been coming from the GOP’s far-right fringe, but as confidence grows of expanding the party’s grip on the House and taking control of the Senate, Republicans are using the “I word” more openly.
The latest is Speaker John Boehner. He announced plans to sue the president for “not faithfully execut[ing] the law.” He insisted “this is not about impeachment,” but that’s exactly what it is about. Boehner’s been steadily raising the volume on his attacks on Barack Obama, and last week he took the next step by announcing plans to take the president to court.
Obama’s “crime” is relying on executive orders, signing statements and other presidential prerogatives to achieve what he could not get through an intensely partisan Republican House that has been intent on blocking his legislative agenda.
The punditocracy went into overdrive. But the real energy and enthusiasm was generated by the frontline troops carrying the battle to the grassroots: the fundraisers.
Both parties and their supporters hope the threat of impeachment will energize their base by motivating contributors to dig deeply into their pockets and get voters to the polls in November. Off-year elections traditionally are a low draw and more profitable for the party out of the presidency.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus sent a memo to party faithful saying Boehner’s suit is part of a plan to “politically immobilize” Obama and make his remaining time in office “irrelevant.” He called the Obama presidency an “error,” echoing the birther movement.
Democrats, whose biggest problem is the president’s low job rating, immediately sent Priebus’ revealing memo to all their mailing lists, adding a twist of their own by branding the overall anti-Obama campaign as “the Tea Party impeachment agenda.”
Impeachment –the equivalent of an indictment – only requires a simple majority of the 435-seat House, and Republicans, with 233 now, have 17 votes to spare if their caucus votes as usual in lockstep. That could be a problem, however, for lawmakers in swing districts who rely on Democratic and independent voters.
Even if an impeachment resolution passes the House, it will need a two-thirds vote in the Senate to convict and remove the president. That would take quite a few Democratic defections and there’s no indication that would happen. There are 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans and two Independents who usually vote with the Democrats.
Impeachment is a high-risk venture for Republicans. It appeals to the Tea Partiers and has been a constant chant of those on the party’s extremes like Reps. Michele Bachmann, Louie Gohmert, Jason Chafetz, Steve King, Lou Barletta Steve Stockman, Michael Burgess, Kerry Bentivolio, Paul Braun and Blake Farenthold, but anyone with a memory knows it can backfire.
That’s what happened when Republicans went after Bill Clinton. He was impeached because he lied about having an affair, something top Republican leaders were also doing but denying. Republicans expected to pick up House seats in the 1998 election but instead lost four.
They held their Senate majority but failed to meet expectations of picking up seats. For the first time since 1822 the out-of-the-presidency party failed to make gains in a president’s second term.
Jewish voters, who had given Clinton around 80 percent of their votes in his two elections, were almost equally supportive of Obama in both of his, and another impeachment, driven by the GOP’s far Right, is likely to be one more reason Jews will stay in the Democratic fold.
Republicans apparently began planning their obstruction strategy on the day of Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, according to two recent books. Plans called for blocking Obama’s agenda to make him look like an incompetent and a failure and to ride back to power on the ashes of his administration. Ask President Romney how well that worked out.
Obama’s job rating is dismal, but it is still better than that of the do-less-than-nothing Congress.
Boehner said he wants to sue the president to “compel” him to “enforce existing laws” in health care, energy, foreign policy and education, but so far he has no specifics.
The problem is Republicans have blocked Congress from passing laws in those areas, compelling the president to resort to using executive authority, as have all of his predecessors.
Boehner’s charge is disingenuous at best. He has brought up and passed about 50 bills to repeal or de-fund Obamacare, even though he knew they were so one-sided that they had no chance of passage. Meanwhile, he made no effort to create a true bipartisan measure to fix any problems with the Affordable Care Act.
In a Rose Garden speech Monday the president said there are enough bipartisan votes today to enact the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate last year, but Boehner won’t bring it to the floor because of opposition from the Tea Party.
“They aren’t willing to stand up to the Tea Party to do what is best for the country,” Obama charged. He said Congressional failure to pass bipartisan legislation has forced him to rely on executive action. If they don’t like what I’m doing, pass some bills with bipartisan support, he challenged Boehner. A broad range of Jewish groups list immigration reform as a domestic priority.
Obama called the suit a “stunt,” adding “they don’t do anything except block me and call me names.”
In defense of Boehner, it must be admitted that spending millions of taxpayer dollars on a frivolous lawsuit is far easier that dealing with his caucus on pressing issues.
It’s far easier to point fingers of blame than take responsibility.
While Boehner rails on about Obama’s use of signing statements, executive orders and administrative rulings, he conveniently overlooks the fact that this president has issued far fewer than any of his predecessors since Grover Cleveland, and that over the years Republicans have used them more frequently than Democrats.
Boehner’s lawsuit has been called a dress rehearsal for impeachment. It will play out in coming months when the Speaker asks the House for authorization, which should pass along party lines. Watch the roll call to see who on each side of the aisle is worried most about swing voters in November.
If Boehner wants to file a lawsuit, taxpayers should counter with a class action suit accusing him of wasting so much of their money on a frivolous political stunt, and for passing bills going nowhere while refusing to work with the minority to enact bipartisan compromises to solve the nation’s real problems.
©2014 Douglas M. Bloomfield