There they go again. The drumbeat on the right for impeaching Pres. Obama is reaching a feverish pitch.
The GOP put impeaching the president on the table last summer, even before it was a cinch they would retake the House in November. Over at the birtherist site, World Nut Daily, they even published a book listing putative impeachable offenses against the president titled, “The Case for Impeachment: Why Barack Hussein Obama Should be Impeached to Save America.” One notable offense in the book: The president, or someone at the White House, reportedly allowed pop stars Beyonce and Jay-Z to have their photographs taken in the White House Situation Room.
Then, as the midterms drew near, Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who would chair the House Oversight Committee, where impeachment investigations usually originate, described the president to Rush Limbaugh as “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times” and announced that he would increase the size of the committee’s staff. (Issa, who should know from corruption — he’s a suspected arsonist and was charged with grand theft auto in 1980 — later tried to walk back his characterization of the president.)
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., the history-challenged prospective GOP presidential candidate, also piled on, suggesting that if Republicans gained control of Congress, they should forget governing and do nothing but investigate the president. “Oh, I think that’s all we should do,” she said. “I think that all we should do is issue subpoenas and have one hearing after another. And expose all the nonsense that is going on. And it’s very important when we come back that we have constitutional conservative leadership because the American people’s patience is about this big.”
Now, in the wake of Pres. Obama’s order last Friday to bomb Libya in preparation for establishing a no-fly zone, right-wing radio talkers and others on GOP propaganda outlets are clamoring once again for impeachment. Critics of the president charge that he violated the War Powers Clause by initiating the bombing without first seeking approval of Congress.
Leaving aside the merits of bombing Libya, the case for impeaching the president on these grounds is precarious. For one thing, there are numerous precedents that did not lead to impeachment, starting in 1950 when Pres. Truman invaded Korea without prior notification to Congress.
But this precedent ought to be of particular interest to the right wing, especially those under the sway of the Cult of St. Ronnie:
In October 1983, President Ronald Reagan announced that he had ordered a pre-dawn invasion of Grenada by nearly 1,900 Marines and armed airborne troops under the code name “Urgent Fury.” The fighting was heavier than expected and by the end of the month, the United States military presence had reached more than 5,600 troops. After a few days of heavy fighting and a number of deaths, the shooting ended.
The invasion and occupation constituted, within the meaning of the War Powers Clause of the U.S. Constitution, a war against the people of Grenada. The president, however, at no time sought the required congressional approval. He justified the invasion by claiming falsely that the lives of U.S. medical students were in danger. The same pretext was given to justify the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965.
(Of course, Reagan cultists have been brainwashed to ignore facts about his record that don’t jive with the mythology they are so invested in. For example, they are blissfully ignorant about the fact that one of his first acts as governor of California was to hike taxes by $1 billion to cover the budget deficit caused, in part, by spending increases he ordered — and that, as president, he raised taxes at least seven times, including the largest corporate tax increase in history.)
Impeaching presidents is as much a political exercise as it is a legal pursuit, as was illustrated by the Republicans’ bogus case against Pres. Clinton in 1998 — an effort led by Newt Gingrich, the most impetuous and ideological speaker in recent history.
In 1983, however, calls for impeaching Reagan in the Democratically controlled House went nowhere, at least in part because Speaker Tip O’Neill refused to pursue them. On a practical level, he knew the matter would likely fail in the Senate, where Republicans were in the majority. Politically, he surmised impeaching Reagan, whose Gallup approval rating was 49 percent, would not sit well with the public.
After Speaker O’Neill took impeachment off the table, a group of civil libertarians brought a lawsuit against the government for violating the War Powers clause on behalf of Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. In fact, during Reagan’s two terms in office, Democratic members of Congress sued him four times for War Powers Clause violations, including the Conyers action, as well suits related to his sending military advisers to El Salvador and his activities in Nicaragua and the Middle East. All four cases were dismissed.
In the 1990s, Pres. George H.W. Bush was sued by Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Calif., for not consulting Congress before sending troops overseas to prepare for the Gulf War. A few years later, 26 members of Congress, led by GOP Rep. Tom Campbell of California, sued Pres. Clinton for not consulting Congress before he invaded Yugoslavia. These cases were dismissed, too.
In general, courts dismissed these lawsuits on the grounds that the Constitution established impeachment as the preferred method for adjudicating criminal charges against the Executive Branch by Congress.
While some liberals view congressional notification as a constitutional, rather than a partisan issue — just this week Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat, called for impeachment hearings on Pres. Obama’s actions in Libya — Republicans don’t give a damn about violations of the War Powers Clause when GOP presidents do it.
For the current crop of Republicans, the issues are unimportant — they are shopping around for a pretext for impeaching Obama, just as their predecessors under Speaker Gingrich spent six years in the 1990s searching for something, anything, over which to impeach Pres. Clinton. After Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate, the Vince Foster suicide and even the their investigation into Socks the cat failed to produce impeachable offenses, they resorted to trapping Pres. Clinton in a perjury about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
In 1983, Speaker O’Neill refused to pursue Reagan over his illegal invasion of Grenada because it was a political non-starter. Not only did the president’s party control the Senate, where impeachment trials are decided, Reagan’s popularity was just under 50 percent.
Today, Speaker Boehner faces a similar political landscape. The president’s party controls the Senate, and the president’s approval rating is 48 percent, according to Gallup.
But John Boehner is no Tip O’Neill. He is neither particularly smart nor politically savvy — but the starkest contrast between them is that Speaker Boehner is the leader of his party in name only. The Tea Party Caucus, led by the half-witted Rep. Bachmann, has him and his team on a very short leash.
And that is the political wild card here. Like Gingrich-era Republicans whose loathing of the Clintons drove them to recklessness, Bachmann, Issa and the rest are blinded by an irrational, partisan hatred of Barack Obama. If they demand impeachment hearings now, Speaker Boehner would be powerless to stop them.