Impeachment and lawsuits: Party tools of emotional extortion

IMAGE: Wikimedia Commons (GNU Free Documentation License)

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., August 4, 2014 – In a Nation that favors sound bites over solutions, it should not come as a surprise that the term “political integrity” has become little more than an oxymoron. Ethics be damned: If the Parties can use something to “stimulate the base,” you may rest assured they will pursue it. It is irrelevant whether it makes sense or is morally reprehensible as long as it can be used to extract money and votes. The recent discussion of impeachment and lawsuits are cases in point.

Impeachment is loosely defined under the Disqualification provision of our Constitution in Article II, Section 4. Uninformed individuals, which apparently include most members of Congress as well as the majority of the White House staff, confuse the term “impeachment” with “disqualification.” To use a baseball analogy, they seem to believe that impeachment is synonymous with the fans favorite encouragement of an umpire to “throw the bum out.” They are incorrect.

While an umpire can act unilaterally, the House of Representatives cannot. The House can only preside over an impeachment hearing to decide whether a sitting President can be justly accused of having committed an impeachable offense. If the House votes to impeach the President, there are no immediate consequences other than the stigma of impeachment and a subsequent trial in the Senate.

Two former Presidents share the distinction of having been impeached: Andrew Johnson (who violated the Tenure of Office Act) and Bill Clinton (who was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice). However, both avoided disqualification when the Senate could not raise the necessary votes to convict them in the second step that our system requires.

A President can only be removed from office if he or she has been impeached in the House and convicted by a two-thirds vote in the Senate. Our Founding Father’s recognized that a single Chamber should not have the authority to unilaterally take action against a President. They also recognized the extreme nature of removal and buffered any political manipulation by requiring a two-thirds vote for removal from office.

As an aside: You may wish to reexamine Senate Majority Leader Reid’s exercise of the “nuclear option” that eliminated the two-thirds requirement that formerly was necessary to overcome a filibuster. If that same standard had been revoked with regard to the Senate’s responsibility to conduct impeachment trials, both Andrew Jackson and Bill Clinton would have been summarily dismissed from office and forced to live with that disgrace for the rest of time.

It is important to note that the Senate also created a burdensome precedent in the trial of former President Clinton. While a vast majority of Senators agreed that then-President Clinton had committed perjury and obstructed justice, they refused to convict on a basis that his conduct did not present a danger to the Nation and did not impair his ability to conduct his official duties. That rationale establishes a significant barrier for ever securing a conviction under the nebulous “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” language of Article II, Section 4, and effectively limits that outcome to the more clear elements of “Treason” and “Bribery.”

In today’s hyper-partisan environment, impeachment would be easy to secure against President Obama in the House if Republicans truly wanted it. Conversely, disqualification would be impossible to secure in the Senate. It is a simple matter of math.

Instead, the Parties pretend that “impeachment” is synonymous with “disqualification”… or they simply do not recognize the difference. In the first case, they are intentionally misrepresenting the truth with the intent to inflame emotions and rally their respective bases. In the second case, they are just stupid. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they know what they are doing.

In recent weeks, Democratic spokespersons have suggested that Republicans want to impeach President Obama while their Republican counterparts have denied any intent to pursue such action. This was good for fund-raising but bore little resemblance to the truth.

Speaker Boehner offered this statement in defense of the Republican position: “This whole talk about impeachment is coming from the President’s own staff and coming from Democrats on Capitol Hill. We have no plans to impeach the President. We have no future plans.”

However, many Republican leaders have called for, or alluded to the impeachment of President Obama over the past few years including: Representatives Bentivolio (R-MI), Burgess (R-TX), Chaffetz (R-UT), and Farenthold (R-TX); former Representatives Tancredo (R-CO) and West (R-FL); and Senators Coburn (R-OK), Inhofe (R-OK.) and Scott (R-SC).

More recently, former Governor and Vice Presidential candidate Palin stirred the pot by calling for the President’s impeachment and chiding Speaker Boehner for his preferred alternative of suing the President. Ms. Palin said, “You don’t bring a lawsuit to a gunfight. There’s no place for lawyers on the front lines.” Apparently, America’s Sweetheart has a “fire in the belly” to impeach the President, or perhaps she was just using the comment to help launch her new television network.

Meanwhile, Democrats played the role of “innocent victim” while fanning the flames of the controversy. They deftly avoided any mention of the fact that they tried to impeach former President George W. Bush in 2008.

Perhaps the most entertaining denial was made by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, (D-TX), who gave an impassioned speech on the floor of the House on July 30th in which she stated, “We did not seek an impeachment of President Bush.” In fact, Rep. Jackson was one of the 11 co-sponsors of House Resolution 1258 that did exactly that.

Rep. Jackson’s spokespeople have since tried to distinguish her comment by limiting it to Articles of Impeachment based on the use of Executive Orders that encroach upon authority reserved to the Legislative Branch under Article I. She was, in fact, disputing a motion on the floor to have the House pursue a lawsuit against President Obama for his abuse of power in that regard.

She argued: “(The approval to sue) smacks against the Constitution, which says there are three equal branches of Government. Therefore, the Executive has the right to perform his duties. I ask my colleagues to oppose this resolution for it is, in fact, a veiled attempt for impeachment, and it undermines the law that allows the President to do his job.”

Interestingly enough, Rep. Jackson actually frames the legal basis of the potential lawsuit in the first sentence. It is because the Constitution defines the authority of “three equal branches of Government” that the suit actually has merit.

Given that many members of Congress seem to struggle to understand the difference between impeachment and disqualification, it should not come as a surprise that many also seem to think that having “three equal branches of Government” means that they all have similar authorities. The concept of maintaining a “separation of powers,” as is implicit in the Constitution, seems to be lost on these individuals.

While the potential lawsuit has technical challenges based upon standing, it is not frivolous based upon facts. President Obama has stretched Executive authority to new limits and well beyond anything this Nation has ever experienced.

There are those who like to emphasize that the President has signed fewer Executive Orders than his predecessor. Unfortunately, the quantity of Executive Orders is irrelevant. It is the degree to which they expand Executive power or trample upon the separation of powers that matters.

For anyone who still wants to track numbers: The Administration has lost 20 cases that dealt with Executive overreach by a vote of 9-0 in the Supreme Court; a Court upon which two of the Justices were appointed by the President. If the House does file suit and secures standing, that number will likely grow to 21.

We need to remember what then-Senator Barack Obama promised in 2008: “The biggest problems we’re facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power in to the Executive Branch, and not go through Congress at all. That’s what I intend to reverse when I’m President of the United States of America.” That “change” was totally within his control. He simply has chosen to ignore his promise.

Instead, President Obama has exploited his power and position in a relatively unprecedented way. He has grown comfortable in signing bills into law only to modify them outside of the legislative process. He has also grown comfortable in criticizing his opponents for the same behavior that he and his Party’s leadership also exhibit.

Immediately following the House’s vote to sue the President, the Democratic National Committee began an e-blast campaign to its constituents to gain political leverage. Its chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz even sent out a fund-raising e-mail entitled “Let’s give ‘em hell.” In it, she disparaged her Republican colleagues in the House and asked for donations of $10, $20, $50, $100 or $200 to help “send this shutdown/lawsuit crowd packing.”

Similarly, the President gave a speech in Kansas City, Missouri, in which he mocked his opponents: “Stop being mad all the time. Stop just hatin’ all the time. Come on.”

Missing the irony of his rhetoric, he went on to say:

“Think about this: They have announced that they’re going to sue me for taking Executive actions to help people. So they’re mad because I’m doin’ my job. And, by the way, I’ve told them. I said, ‘I’d be happy to do it with you. So the only reason I’m doin’ it on my own is because you don’t do anything. But if you want, let’s work together.’

“I mean, everybody recognizes this is a political stunt, but it’s worse than that, because every vote they’re takin’ like that means a vote they’re not takin’ to actually help you. When they have taken 50 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that was time that could have been spent workin’ constructively to help you on some things. And, by the way, you know who is payin’ for this suit they’re going to file? You. You’re payin’ for it.”

Mr. President, with all due respect, please consider the following:

  • The House is considering filing a suit, not because you are doing your job… but because there is evidence to suggest that you are trying to do theirs.
  • Telling members of the House that you would be happy to work with them may not be as effective as actually demonstrating a willingness to work with them. Perhaps you would have a stronger argument if you stayed in Washington, D.C., to address our Nation’s foreign and domestic crises rather than traveling around the country to attend fund-raising events for your Party.
  • Partisan speeches before partisan crowds, in which only applause lines are delivered rather than constructive solutions, are considered to be “political stunts” by informed members of the electorate.
  • Time spent on fund-raising trips, rounds of golf, and luxurious vacations may also be perceived by some as time that could have been better spent “workin’ constructively… on some things.”
  • We also are acutely aware of who is paying for those activities, and some of us even recognize how much productivity is lost with respect to the People’s business when it is spent doing the Party’s business… or on private indulgences.
  • Please consider trying something new such as leading by example. Then, the Republican transgressions that seem to annoy you would become far more pronounced and your anger would seem to be more justifiable. As Secretary Kerry is learning in Israel, someone must agree to a ceasefire before peace can be brokered. It is much the same with respect to the political polarization in our country.

If both Parties continue to engender conflict so it can be exploited to create the fear that drives political donations, turnout on Election Day, and thoughtlessly partisan votes, our Nation loses. Someone needs to agree to stop the insanity. If one side has the integrity to stop attacking its opponent and the other side continues to fire political rockets, then the world will know who the aggressor is. Otherwise, as the great philosopher Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”


A Civil Assessment has been designed to serve as an Op-Ed forum for you. You are invited to offer your opinion and to discuss your position in the Comment Section. Please be sure that your “assessments” remain “civil” so that they may earn the respect of others.


TJ O’Hara provides nonpartisan political commentary every Tuesday on The Daily Ledger, one of One America News Network’s featured shows (check local cable listings for the channel in your area or watch online at 8:00 PM and Midnight PM Eastern / 5:00 and 9:00 PM Pacific. His segment appears about 35 minutes into the program.

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  • Well, it would seem quite logical to impeach those calling for impeachment for malfeasance. Malfeasance…? OK it was a joke, as likely all 535 would be gone. The Hill has bcome a 21st century Sodom and Gomorrah. ” find just two honest souls with integrity and I promise not to destroy the Hill”. Good luck chum.

    And thank you Mr. O’Hara for reminding us to NEVER trust a single word a “politician” says. If only we would vote our conscience with an objective mind, in a truly competitive environment – these issues would be mitigated. Until the parties are marginalized, we will continue to suffer.

    Gene Chaas, CFA
    Chair – NY Whig State Cmttee

    • Thank you for your comment, Mr. Chaas.

      You have succinctly stated the solution: “If only we would vote our conscience with an objective mind, in a truly competitive environment – these issues would be mitigated.”

      I hope voters begin to consider your Party’s candidates. You have been running some good people this past year, and your Party was extremely supportive of my efforts in 2012.

      The Whigs are quite unique as they do not force a position upon their members. In that manner, they set a standard that I can only hope the major Parties will someday approach. In the interim, I wish you and your Party every success.

      • I call this bad of rebels the UN-party for a reason sir. Thank you for your kind words.

        • Mr. Chaas:

          I share your view of your Party. The Whigs represent more of a political philosophy than a traditional Party. Rather than force a specific platform position on its members, the Whigs emphasize independent thinking based upon factual evidence.

          In fact, independent thinking is one of the three “pillars” of the Whigs; the other two being a belief in a meritocracy and the importance of demonstrating integrity (i.e., aligning one’s actions with one’s words). Imagine how our political landscape would change if we elected candidates who could comply with those three tenets.

          Good luck to you and your “un”-Party.

  • Eric N Keya Erickson

    I had the misfortune to listen to some conservative talk radio the other day. They claimed that MSNBC had mentioned impeachment four times as much as Fox News in recent days, this of course being evidence that it’s the Democrats, not the pure-as-the-driven-snow Republicans, who were bringing it up.

    Whether that’s true or not, all of this is just further evidence that Republicans and Democrats are far more interested in partisan bickering than in finding real solutions. It’s time to vote them all out in favor of statesmen who will truly serve the American people. When are you announcing the O’Hara for President 2016 campaign?

    • Thank you for your comment and kind words, Mr. Erickson.

      It is interesting how the two sides use the bad behavior of the other to justify their own. The irony is that Fox will close the gap on MSNBC by repeatedly reporting how many more times MSNBC raise impeachment than did Fox.

      Correspondingly, how many times have we heard the current Administration justify negative behavior by highlighting that the prior Administration did it too. Yet, during the 2008 and 2012 campaign, the Bush Administration was vilified. That begs the question: Why would the current Administration then want to emulate it?

      We’ve apparently become immune to the petty bickering and illogical positioning of the Parties and their media supporters. I think its time for “A Civil Assessment.” ;o)

      As for 2016, maybe I’ll write a book entitled “Hard Truths,” talk about REAL middle class experiences, and try to get a guest spot on a comedy show or two. That seems to be a popular route for political success.

      Thanks again for your comment.

      • Brendan

        My grandfather was a very big fan of the Pogo comic and he often spoke of that line you quoted as his favorite. Good to see that it’s still in use.

        I have to ask though as you pointed out the current administration is blaming the previous for current issues. How long has this been a tradition? I distinctly remember it back in the Bush era (when I was still being raised as a hardcore liberal) and, if I remember correctly, the Carter administration also laid blame on the Nixon administration for their economic downturn. Is this just standard political tactic, or have there been times in our history where we don’t have such a problem?

        My largest issue here with our current administration is its vilification of the previous, while expanding and almost completely blowing the actions placed from Bush out of proportion. The idea like the Patriot Act and this so-called ‘War on Terror’ (which, even though I’m a rather staunch conservative I can’t agree with) has not only been extended within our current regime, but put to more force than originally intended. The intense surveillance of our citizens is wholly unnecessary and obscenely frightening. People claim that if we have nothing to hide, there is nothing to fear. While that may be true, who gets to decide what is considered “hiding”? Shoot, for all I know the IRS might start blocking my future student loans for simply stating (or getting emails from) that I read conservative blogs.

        It also doesn’t cover their treatment of the ‘War on Terror’. As far as I know we’re still at “Terror Alert” yellow, which hasn’t changed since Bush. On top of that, we’ve also heard discussion from this administration that “current calculations” lead them to believe that “Mission Accomplished” will happen around 2025. How is that even feasible, or even allowable? Do we plan to just subdue the whole of the Middle East by then? After that Syria business with Putin throwing us to the floor in foreign policy, I highly doubt it.

        • Thank you for your comment, Brendan.

          I agree with your grandfather. Pogo was an outstanding political satire strip, and I hope his most famous line lives forever.

          You assessment of the time-honored tradition of blaming the prior Administration is spot-on. The current Administration has merely refined it to an art form. As you have indicated, it has also compounded the problem by expanding the application of most of the “heinous” acts it accused to Bush Administration of having perpetrated to get elected.

          Executive Orders are another example of such expansion… if not in volume, certainly in impact. Given the President’s record with the Supreme Court and his penchant for interpreting the Constitution in his own unique way, I think the students to whom he taught Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago should get their tuition refunded. ;o)

          As for the vulnerability of your student loans: I’m not sure that the IRS will ever interfere with your financial alternatives just because you read conservative blogs, However, you undoubtedly are on EVERY Government agency’s Watch List for having left a comment to an article that appears in my column, “A Civil Assessment.” If you think conservative blogs drive them the current Administration crazy, just imagine how upset they are with an independent column that offers the truth.

          Thank you again for your comment… and good luck with your student loans!

  • Jason Decker

    This was a great article. I really like how you gave President Obama advice on how to make this right and lead. There would always be people who dislike him and think he isn’t doing his job, but if he wasn’t overreaching and ramping up the political rhetoric the Republicans would probably look even worse and he could be looked at favorably. I think in the beginning he made some attempts at bipartisanship of which he was met with opposition from both parties of which he withered to political pressure and started siding only with Democrats. They were angry of him and worried he was making them look bad with the base early on and now he is just campaigning to the base as you pointed out. I think he needs to read this and if I were him right after this election I dive head first into bi partisan work and challenge his fellow democrats because at that point why should he care with one year left and he being out of office with the next election, so he can really get some things accomplished just before he leaves.

    • Thank you for you comment, Mr. Decker.

      I do think the President would benefit if he were to surround himself with the best talent available rather than defaulting to the appointment of individuals who have been most loyal to him or his Party. I have always said, “The diversity of an Administration is best measured by the diversity of thought within it.”

      The only “food for thought” I would offer with respect to your comment is that Leaders are expected to lead. If the President’s early position was correct, he should not have deviated from it just to placate his Party. His responsibility is to the People… not his Party.

      He also still has a year and a half to serve. I would be extremely disappointed if he were to spend it planning to become a more effective leader after he leaves office (with respect to facilitating bipartisan accord). From my perspective, he has the responsibility to use his best efforts every day that he is honored to serve as our Nation’s President… and I wish him nothing but success in that regard.

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  • Ignacio Prado

    Its a big game. There is no way House reps would have let the waivers go through — they are interested in undermining the ACA at all costs. Recent lawsuits brought to block the subsidies prove that. They have realized they can’t take it the ACA off the books so now they want it to fail so it becomes a political liability — that’s why all the fuss about the website (which magically died down when enrollment targets were met). Now the Reps are complaining that Obama is going around them in extending and delaying implementation of mandates and filing a suit over the implementation of a law they have tried to defund an insane amount of times. I still don’t think his actions regarding the ACA is in any way comparable to actions by LBJ, Bush or… OBAMA HIMSELF on the judicial overreach as it regards national security issues and enemy combatants, suspension of habeas corpus, and the need for warrants re: FICA, etc. If any professional party politicians were looking out for us, some of that would make it into their lawsuits.

    • Terry Ponick

      Enrollment targets were never met. Administration moved the goalposts to suit. Moreover, it came to light last week that at least 800,000 “enrollees” never paid and have been dropped off those rolls. If you don’t look beyond this Administration for your facts, you’re drinking the Kool-Aid. Sorry.