Power Struggle Rekindles Risky Talk of Impeachment
Policy + Politics

Power Struggle Rekindles Risky Talk of Impeachment

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

After President Obama failed to inform Congress ahead of time that he’d approved a prisoner swap between U.S. Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl – a suspected deserter – and five Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) went ballistic.

Graham said GOP lawmakers would call for Obama’s impeachment if he released more prisoners without first seeking congressional approval. “It’s going to be impossible for them to flow prisoners out of Gitmo now without a huge backlash,” Graham said, according to The Hill. “There will be people on our side calling for his impeachment if he did that.”

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Impeachment talk flared up again a week ago, after House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) revealed plans to introduce legislation in July allowing the House to sue Obama for excessive use of executive actions to circumvent Congress.

While the Speaker insisted impeachment was not on the table, many Republican and Tea Party activists believe there are ample grounds for the House to impeach the president. Those include the prisoner swap for Bergdahl, as well as his directives to reduce air pollution, alter immigration policies and repeatedly change the timetable and terms for implementing the Affordable Care Act.

South Dakota’s Republican Party became so agitated over Obama’s conduct it approved a resolution on June 21 calling for his impeachment for violating “his oath of office in numerous ways.”

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“President Nixon was forced to resign because he lied to Congress and tapped the Democratic National Committee,” said Dr. Allen Unruh of Sioux Falls, S.D., a chiropractor and longtime GOP activist, who pushed through the resolution. “He was a choir boy compared to what’s going on today.”

Unruh added in an interview, “When you stop and think about the fact that this president had taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States and protect all Americans from all enemies foreign and domestic, and the fact that not too long ago he released five terrorist masterminds without consulting the Congress, it is reprehensible and threatens the security of our country.”

It’s been nearly 16 years since former President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House on two charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The Senate acquitted Clinton in February 1999; polls showed voters strongly disapproved of the GOP action. The Republicans suffered serious losses in the next election, enabling Democrats to regain control of the Senate.

This time, no one is seriously holding his breath waiting for the GOP- controlled House to go after yet another sitting Democratic president.

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“Revived talk about impeachment is absurd and I can’t imagine sensible Republicans will go down that road,” said William Galston, a political expert with the Brookings Institution and a former policy adviser to Bill Clinton. “Impeachment talk is politically crazy. Have they learned nothing from the past?”

Clinton was impeached and tried for allegedly lying to an independent counsel. Obama’s bitter power struggle with congressional Republicans over wielding executive authority hardly fits the “high crimes and misdemeanors” description required for impeachment, according to the president’s supporters. But many conservatives disagree, saying Obama has given them ample grounds to go after him.   

“Barack Hussein Obama’s unilateral negotiations with terrorists and the ensuing release of their key leadership without consult – mandated by law – with the U.S. Congress represents high crimes and misdemeanors, an impeachable offense,” former Rep. Allen West (R-FL) wrote on his website in June.

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The McClatchy news service reported this week that “from conservative media outlets to the campaign trail to bookstores, chatter about impeaching Obama and members of his administration has heated up in recent weeks.” An organization called The Tea Party.net claims to have received 546,124 letters and emails in response to its call for impeaching Obama, according to its website.

“I think it is about time someone stood in the breach against the president's severe executive overreach,” Mark Meckler, a political activist and president of Citizens for Self-Governance, said in an email. “Liberal law professor Jonathan Turley has called this administration the 'imperial presidency.' I think that's an accurate description.”

And conservative author Andrew C. McCarthy, writing for National Review, declared recently, “It’s not crazy” for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and other politicians and Tea Party activists to be talking seriously about impeachment. “The Framers intended impeachment as the ultimate accountability,” wrote McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute. “Without at least the credible threat of it, there is no realistic checking of a president who seems increasingly disposed to abuse his awesome powers, in fulfillment of a promise to fundamentally transform the United States of America.”

Despite the mounting calls for retribution against Obama, there is little sign that GOP leaders or even the Tea Party itself view impeachment as a politically plausible path to follow.

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Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele told McClatchy, “I don’t see the passion for it, quite honestly. It obscures the issues we want to talk about.”

Taylor Budowich, executive director of the Tea Party Express PAC in California, agrees that an attempt to impeach the president would be misguided and potentially damaging to the conservative movement heading into the fall midterms

“While conservatives may have some legitimate legal grievances with President Obama's actions, American voters, by and large, do not feel President Obama deserves to be impeached,” Budowich said in an interview Wednesday. “The priorities for the majority of voters are to rein in out-of-control spending and get the economy working again. Impeachment is a distraction.”  

Just how the epic power struggle between Obama and House Republicans plays out is anybody’s guess. Washington is being treated to the spectacle of a recalcitrant legislative body unwilling to address any major presidential initiative, including immigration reform and minimum wage, now threatening to take Obama to court to challenge what they view as unconstitutional overreach.

“The administration has decided that it has nothing left to lose by embarking on the most energetic possible strategy of executive orders to move forward pieces of the administration’s agenda that arguably can be advanced without congressional approval,” Galston of Brookings said. “It’s as simple as that, but we’ll see how that works.”

Related: Obama Practically Dares Boehner to Sue Him

A combative Obama practically taunted Boehner this week over announcing even more executive orders. After learning that Boehner postponed any action on immigration reform until next year, Obama said he decided to take action immediately to reinforce the border patrol with other assets from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice.

Though he acknowledged Republican complaints, Obama vigorously defended his spate of executive orders. He said he uses them “only when we have a serious problem, a serious issue, and Congress chooses to do nothing.”

Obama may be emboldened by one other calculation: Even if Boehner makes good on his threat to take the president to court, the case – with all its constitutional complexities and the issue of whether lawmakers even have the standing to bring the suit – could drag on in court for many months or years. Obama could well be wrapping up his second term or be out of office before there’s a final ruling.

That is why some Republicans, including Unruh of South Dakota, are highly skeptical of Boehner’s tactics and believe impeachment is a far better path to follow.

“Boehner’s suit is meaningless; it will accomplish nothing,” Unruh said. “Federal judges do not have the authority to impeach a president. Or, if you file a lawsuit, they can rule against Obama, but he would just ignore it. Just like he’s doing now.”

Maureen Mackey of The Fiscal Times contributed reporting. 

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