To get a more complete picture of what is going on in the offices of House Republicans, including Speaker Boehner, you have to go back to Barack Obama’s nomination as the Democratic Party’s standard bearer in 2008. Almost immediately, the part-racist/part-xenophobic drumbeat began – “Kenyan…Muslim…Communist,,,Socialist…not a ‘real’ American”. Consistent with these views, “birtherism” (1) sprang up as the first attempt to remove the new president from office. When that movement failed to gain widespread traction, the focus shifted to the president’s policies and events that were construed as evidence that he was unfit to hold office (2). This theme was picked up by conservatives, embellished and disseminated far and wide. The result was that by the time the 2012 national election approached, the word “impeachment” was being whispered about on the political right.
Over the last two years, that “whisper” has reached a deafening volume, especially among conservatives’ most hardcore zealots. They have put intense pressure on their elected representatives in the House to make Obama’s lack of fitness broadly apparent and therefore, grounds for impeachment. That has been the one of the underlying “drivers” of the multiple investigations that have been ongoing in DC. The problem, at least for the aforementioned zealots, is that all this activity has thus far failed to uncover evidence that puts a proverbial “smoking gun” in the president’s hands so that grounds for his removal from office actually exist. However, rather than allowing this reality of the absence of impeachable offenses to sink in, conservative bloggers and news sources have done just the opposite; i.e. pushed the idea that guilt is truly there, though masked by cover-ups. The only way to end this Obama reign of lawlessness is through impeachment (3).
Now unseating a duly elected president is a tricky bit of business on a political level. Republicans’ found that out back in the ’90s when they sought to remove then-President Clinton from office over his lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. The move backfired badly as the GOP lost seats in both houses of Congress. Speaker Boehner is well aware of this history and he knows that to start such an action now against Obama could well do serious harm to Republicans’ chances of regaining a majority in the Senate as a result of the coming midterm election. But what to do to placate the zealots who ignore these political realities and endlessly clamor for Obama’s head on a stick posted along Pennsylvania Avenue? What gambit do you contrive to convince these activist voters that you are one of them; a “true believer”? The answer……….wait for it…………………SUE THE PRESIDENT!!! (4)
This is pandering at its worst. Indeed, best call it what it is – IMPEACHMENT LITE!! If impeachment is “tricky”, taking a sitting president to court is even trickier. First, you have to decide on a basis for your pleading; what are plaintiffs going to allege as the basis for their filing? Thus far, all that Speaker Boehner has signaled is that Obama’s issuance of multiple Executive Orders has distorted what is supposed to be the equal division of powers across the Executive and Legislative. But, for that basis to have any legal merit, plaintiffs must make the prima facie case that Obama’s behavior has injured or harmed them in some material way. The court will signal that plaintiffs have failed to meet that test by refusing to grant them standing; i.e. there is no substantive basis for your suit (5). So, to attain standing, House Republicans are going to have to carefully pick just those Executive Orders that best demonstrate, on their face, that material harm or injury can legitimately be alleged. And what would those select Executive Orders be? Plaintiffs are currently working that out. Then, of course, there is the trial itself, assuming one even takes place. And if it does and plaintiffs lose, how might that impact voters’ behavior this November? You get the distinct impression that to appease the most boisterous, splenetic sliver of people among all their constituents, congressional GOPers are preparing to take a huge gamble. To hedge their bets, watch for them to keep the threat of the suit “out there” until after the election. If they regain the majority in the Senate, only then will they move forward aggressively, confident that their planned legal action will gain support in both chambers. And what if one or another important part of this entire enterprise doesn’t materialize? One must wonder if and when members of the conservative grass roots will figure out that they have been “played”; i.e. kept loyal at the ballot box out of a belief that their elected representatives in the House are sincere in trying to hold the president accountable.
1. Ironically, the very first birther lawsuit was filed by an attorney named Phillip Berg who was a Hillary Clinton supporter. His goal was to knock Obama out of the running for the presidential nomination.
2. The “events”, by name, include Fast and Furious, the AP/James Rosen flap, Benghazi and the IRS treatment of applicants for tax-exempt status.
3. Last December, House Republicans convened a panel of constitutional experts to get their opinions on how impeachable Obama was. The general agreement was that, starting with GW Bush, there had been a shift in the balance of power from the Legislative to the Executive, but that this trend did not rise to the level of involving “high crimes and misdemeanors”, the constitutional standard that must be met for a move to impeach to go forward. This judgment got little mention in the media, especially among its conservative members.
4. All this harks back to the blog “The Choice Ahead: 2014 and Beyond” posted at this site on March 20, 2014.
5. A lack of standing is how courts have ruled on every single birther pleading; now numbering in excess of 200 suits.