In one of my earliest introductions to impeachment in grade school, my teacher made the point that congress is loath to use the impeachment process because impeachment could be used (or misused, depending on your point of view) to usher in a new parliamentary system in the US. This is because the Constitutional rules regarding what constitutes grounds for impeachment are so vague that the argument could be made that it is completely up to congress what constitutes a justifiable reason to remove the President, to wit:
The Constitution, Article II, Section 4:
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 Constitution, Article I, Section 3:
The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.
In the wake of the changes Reagan ushered into the Republican party in general, the GOP has demonstrated a wanton disregard for the long term consequences of their actions. Congressional Republicans prior to Reagan, for instance, would never have misused impeachment as the late 1990's Republicans did.
One of the unfortunate consequences of the Clinton impeachment is that there is now judicial review, in the form of rulings by Chief Justice Rehnquist, that solidifies that not just the reasons for impeachment, but many aspects of the process as being up to the whims of congress. For instance, Rehnquist said that while the Chief Justice of the United States presides over impeachment, any of his ruling regarding what evidence could be allowed in or any other procedural matters can be overruled by the senate by a mere majority vote. The Chief Justice is, according to Rehnquist's rulings, a glorified meeting facilitator in the impeachment process, nothing more.
To be fair to Rehnquist, few to none of his pronouncements were materially different from Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase's handling of the 1868 impeachment and acquittal of President Andrew Johnson. However, Rehnquist's upholding of the Chase interpretation of impeachment put a modern stamp on the impotent role of the Chief Justice in impeachment. A recklessly led congress can now initiate impeachment for any reason and has no real procedural constraints. Thanks to the late 1990's Republican Party, the impeachment genie is truly out of the bottle.
How will Republicans attempt to justify impeachment?
After the Clinton impeachment, there is only one thing congress need concern itself with regard to impeachment and that is public opinion. Even that is only something that needs to be dealt with later, during election time. If those behind an impeachment can throw up a good enough smokescreen regarding their reasoning to fool enough people, as Republicans did with Clinton, even the risk of a public backlash is something that can be mitigated.
Republicans have three hopes for justifying the impeachment of President Obama. The first is the one discussed openly in the above discussed Politico article. If Republicans take the House, they will unleash an unprecedented wave of investigations into the administration. They hope that they can come up with something, no matter how small, that they can sell as an impeachable offense.
The second hope Republicans have is more subtly evinced by Kurt Bardella's quote "How acrimonious things get really depend on how willing the administration is in accepting our findings [and] responding to our questions,". Bardella is clearly signaling to everyone that if at some point, the administration gets sick of the investigations and stops cooperating with them things will get ugly. What does that mean? Well, congress has only one real remedy for checking the power of the President beyond a veto override. It's clear Bardella is not discussing vetoes here. If the President attempts to use executive privilege or in any other way appears to not be participating fully, the Republicans will attempt to sell this as contempt of congress and obstruction of justice and initiate impeachment proceedings.
Lets say that the administration thwarts the Republicans in both of the two top things that the GOP hopes will allow them to sell an impeachment. How will Republicans proceed then? Tom Tancredo gave us the hint in his Washington Times Op-Ed. The GOP will use a mashup of policy decisions they disagree with and claim that Obama has violated his oath of office. They will talk about the "takeover" of General motors, the "refusal to secure the borders" the "Socialism" of healthcare and say that these actions justify impeachment.
It's important to note that Republicans do not intend to remove President Obama from office, at least not with impeachment. They know they have no chance to do that and it is not their goal. Their goal is to hurt the President politically to hamper his efforts to enact his policies, hurt his efforts to be re-elected and also hurt the chances of the next Democratic candidate for President. The Democratic Party leadership and candidates need to start asking the critical question of Republicans and their congressional candidates, "Is impeachment an option if you are elected?" I predict that if Democrats start asking the question, Republicans will not give them any straight answers. There will be no Pelosi-an "Impeachment is off the table" from Republicans.
Republican Neo-Fascism and Tunnel-Vision Concerning Hurting Obama
Beyond impeachment, people should be concerned about where the Republicans are positioning themselves and their base to take the country. The GOP and their Tea Party alter-ego have been whipping their base up against a religious minority (Muslims), against immigrants, they have encouraged their base to bring weapons to Democratic events they are protesting, Glenn Beck's recent "Rally for Honor" puts the exclamation point on how nationalistic the GOP/Tea Party has become. While Republicans seem to be enjoying their foray into neo-Fascism, they are notably lacking for any ideas on how to improve the economy or address any of the other problems of the nation.
This election should be about important issues like the economy and jobs. I understand how some Americans are frustrated by what they perceive to be a lack of progress on improving the economy. I know how the GOP has attempted to stoke fears about supposed Socialism and Muslims and immigration. You can disagree with the administration about policy direction concerning the economy and job creation. The thing everyone needs to understand is that the Republicans who hope to take congress do not care at all about any of these issues.
You cannot be preparing to spend the kind of time and money Republicans are preparing to spend on investigations and then also claim that the economy is your top priority. The Republicans top priority if they win back the House will be the same it has been since January 21, 2009 and that is to hurt President Obama. If that is your top priority, by all means, vote for Republicans in November. If it isn't, if you want people in office working on the most important issues of the day, voting Democratic is a much better choice.
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