“The President’s Constitutional Duty to Faithfully Execute the Laws.” That was the subject and title of a hearing held by the House Committee on the Judiciary Tuesday. The committee is composed of 23 Republicans and 17 Democrats. Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) explained the hearing was necessary given recent actions taken by the President.
“The Obama Administration, however, has ignored the Constitution’s carefully balanced separation of powers and unilaterally granted itself the extra-constitutional authority to amend the laws and to waive or suspend their enforcement,” Goodlatte stated. “The President’s far-reaching claims of executive power, if left unchecked, will vest the President with broad domestic policy authority that the Constitution does not grant him.”
Four witnesses were heard from during the hearing: Professor Jonathan Turley from the George Washington University Law School; Professor Nicholas Rosenkranz, from the Georgetown University Law Center; Simon Lazarus, Senior Counsel for the Constitutional Accountability Center; and Michael F. Cannon, Director of Health Policy Studies Cato Institute.
Texas Republican Blake Farenthold wondered during the hearing about impeachment. “We’ve also talked about the I-word, impeachment, which I don’t think would get past the Senate in the current climate. Is there anything else we can do?”
For Washington Post opinion columnist, Dana Milbank, the meeting was uncalled for and extreme. “History will record that on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary met to consider the impeachment of Barack Hussein Obama,” Milbank wrote. He characterized the hearing as a last-ditch effort to stop the Affordable Care Act from being implemented.
Milbank calculates that of the Republican members, at least thirteen have raised the possibility of impeaching the President. He also answered Farenthold’s question. “Why, yes, there is, congressman: You can hold hearings that accomplish nothing but allow you to sound fierce for your most rabid constituents.” Three of the witnesses, to one degree or another, follow the line of thought established by Milbank, especially Rosenkranz’s testimony, which focused solely on Obama.
Cannon, too, focused on Obama – but also worried about the implications for any future president “because it guarantees that presidents from both parties will replicate and even surpass the abuses of their predecessors as payback for past injustices. The result is that democracy and freedom will suffer no matter who occupies the Oval Office.”
Turley was more concerned with a pattern that has developed over the years where Congress has allowed a slow usurpation of power to take place, and the rise of governmental agencies who act increasingly like a law-making branch of government. Omitted from Milbank’s opinion piece is the mention of the testimony by Lazarus, who rebuked the idea that the President’s actions were impeachable offenses. “All of these efforts to import the Constitution into what are in reality political and policy debates are rhetorical make-weights. They mock the text and original meaning of the Take Care clause,” Lazarus said.
He concluded that, “The various critiques being vetted here, of the Affordable Care Act and other Obama Administrative initiatives, reflect political and policy-driven criticisms.” Such attempts “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.”
Did this 10 a.m. hearing accomplish anything? Probably not. Did it provide Republican members political power with their home base? Probably so. It is a ploy that has long been used by both parties. In June 2008, then Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) introduced H.Res. 1258: Impeaching George W. Bush, President of the United States, of high crimes and misdemeanors. Among the reasons cited are Article 21′s claim that Bush used signing statements to ignore Congressionally passed laws, and Article 25′s charge of policies implemented by the Administration to destroy the Medicare program.
At the time, Robert Wexler was the Democratic Representative of Florida’s nineteenth district. In a statement by Wexler, printed in the Sun Sentinel, he stated the ”decision by Congress to pursue impeachment is not an option, it is a sworn duty. It is time for Congress to stand up and defend the Constitution against the blatant violations and illegalities of this Administration. Our Founding Fathers bestowed upon Congress the power of impeachment, and it is now time that we use it to defend the rule of law from this corrupt Administration.”
Whenever it is favorable, neither political party is immune from criticizing the opposition. Like Lazarus said, “attempts to wrap those arguments in the Constitution just thicken the political fog.”
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