I could almost feel sorry for John Boehner, if he hadn’t played such a big role in creating his own problems. As Speaker of the House, he is simultaneously
- one of the most powerful figures in the United States government, answerable to History and to Peter Parker’s uncle: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
- leader of a majority caucus that wants the United States to become ungovernable, believing that the American people will blame the ensuing chaos on a president the caucus hates.
- responsible for keeping that caucus in the majority, while knowing that they are delusional and the American people will blame them if they cause disasters too obviously.
To succeed, he needs his caucus to stay in the majority, continue as leader of that caucus, and not sink the country. It’s an impossible job, and it can’t end well for him. But for some reason he loves it and wants to hang on to it. So he is constantly running out in front of the mob so that he can claim to be leading it, hoping that he can divert it from its most destructive (and self-destructive) goals.
That’s why he has to pretend to believe in hare-brained schemes like the government shutdown, so that he’ll be in a position raise the debt ceiling at the last minute and avoid an international economic disaster. He has to tolerate obstruction of government programs the country wants — the Highway Trust Fund is about to run out of money, a threat that combines job destruction with potholes and unsafe bridges; tens of thousands of refugee kids are piling up at the border unprocessed, the Senate worked out a bipartisan immigration compromise Boehner can’t even bring to a vote; and couldn’t the minimum wage go up just a little? — so that he can maybe save a few of them eventually.
The lawsuit. And now he has to sue the President, because otherwise the lunatics he leads will start an impeachment process that will probably be even less popular and less grounded in reality than their last presidential impeachment. They’ll do it right before an election, focusing the public’s attention on what a bad idea it was to give the Republican Party any role in governing the country.
He has to sue the President, even though Obama is begging him to do it. Obama is going all over the country, cracking jokes at Boehner’s expense. He just went to Texas, and said:
You hear some of them … “Sue him! Impeach him!” Really? Really? For what? You’re going to sue me for doing my job?”
Obama loved it. The crowd loved it. It looked great on TV. Every presidential action the House Republicans want to sue or impeach Obama for points to an issue where the real problem is inaction by the Republican House. And Obama’s not up for re-election; they are. No wonder he loves to talk about it.
Now, I don’t know which things they find most offensive — me helping to create jobs, or me raising wages, or me easing the student loan burdens, or me making sure women can find out whether they’re getting paid the same as men for doing the same job. I don’t know which of these actions really bug them.
But Boehner has to do it, because this is where the rhetoric that bounces around in the right-wing echo chamber leads. For five years, Republicans have been telling their base that Obama is “lawless” and his rule is “tyranny“. He “ignores the Constitution” and “makes up his own laws“.
The importance of vagueness. Like most extreme rhetoric, this talk works best when it’s vague, a lesson Republicans keep learning (and forgetting) when it comes to spending: Railing about “government waste” and promising to cut “trillions” from the budget are great applause lines. But when you have to make those cuts specific, hungry people don’t eat, old people pay more for medical care, construction workers lose their jobs, contaminated food gets past the inspectors … and it all becomes a lot less popular. That’s because the notion that we spend trillions building bridges to nowhere, feeding able-bodied people who could easily get jobs, and dishing out foreign aid to countries that hate us is a delusion. If you take big whacks at the federal budget, you’re going to end up making life considerably harder for people a lot like yourself.
But Boehner can’t stay vague forever. When Republican leaders encourage delusional rhetoric about the horrible things Obama and his government have done, eventually the people who believe them are going to ask what they’re doing about it. And the true answer, “I’m raising a bunch of money from suckers like you” is not going to cut it. Sadly, though, actually doing something will force Obama’s critics to be embarrassingly specific. They can’t just sue or impeach Obama for “Benghazi” or “making a mockery of the Constitution”; they’ll have to point to actual events that break actual laws. And then there will be a public hearing where they’ll be expected to offer evidence that these events happened somewhere other than in their fevered imaginations.
What’s worse, everybody will be watching, not just the Republican base. It has all the makings of an embarrassing disaster.
Boehner, naturally, wants to put that off as long as possible. That’s why he floated the lawsuit idea and let it hang in the air for two weeks before saying what it would be about. It’s like walking into a lawyer’s office and announcing, “I’m going to sue that guy!” and when the lawyer asks “For what?” you answer “Give me two weeks and I’ll think of something.”
[T]he Speaker may initiate or intervene in one or more civil actions on behalf of the House of Representatives … with respect to implementation of (including a failure to implement) any provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
That’s still pretty vague, but in a statement Boehner fleshed it out a little:
In 2013, the president changed the health care law without a vote of Congress, effectively creating his own law by literally waiving the employer mandate and the penalties for failing to comply with it.
So that’s the President’s foremost tyrannical act: He delayed implementation of the employer mandate, one of the provisions of the ACA Republicans hate most. The New Republic‘s Brian Beutler described Boehner’s announcement as “a faceplant”:
Today’s story is that the GOP has spent weeks and weeks accusing Obama of unbridled lawlessness, when they didn’t really have the goods.
MaddowBlog‘s Steve Benen goes into more detail: Almost certainly, a federal judge will rule that the House doesn’t have standing to sue. (They’re not the ones being hurt, if anybody is. And if they’re serious, they have the impeachment power and don’t need the courts.) If the merits of the suit are heard and Boehner would happen to win, “the result might very well be the implementation of a policy Republicans don’t like”, unless the case lasted long enough that it had been implemented by then anyway. And implementation would be good for House Republicans because …
Remember, for GOP lawmakers, effective public policy wasn’t part of the equation. The GOP’s priority was failure – they wanted the system not to work. If the employer mandate would have made life difficult for the private sector, then Republicans desperately wanted it to happen so that it would hurt the economy, anger the public, and make the ACA more unpopular, causing a political nightmare for the president.
It’s part of that break-the-country-so-the-president-gets-blamed strategy, which worked so well during the government shutdown. And it makes such a good talking point: I’m suing to force the President to do something I think is bad for the country, because the way that he did what I think is good for the country was tyrannical. Voters love inside-the-Beltway process arguments like that.
Impeachment. But at least Boehner is heading off talk about impeachment. Or is he? Tuesday, Sarah Palin went to the heart of the echo chamber, Breitbart.com, and wrote “It’s time to impeach President Obama“. Impeach him because “Opening our borders to a flood of illegal immigrants is deliberate.” (Picture turning that conspiracy theory into an Article of Impeachment and offering evidence to support it on national TV.) But that’s not all Palin has:
President Obama’s rewarding of lawlessness, including his own, is the foundational problem here. It’s not going to get better, and in fact irreparable harm can be done in this lame-duck term as he continues to make up his own laws as he goes along, and, mark my words, will next meddle in the U.S. Court System with appointments that will forever change the basic interpretation of our Constitution’s role in protecting our rights.
Unless impeached immediately, Obama will “meddle in the U. S. Court System” by doing his job under Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution to “appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for”. No wonder she concludes:
The many impeachable offenses of Barack Obama can no longer be ignored. If after all this he’s not impeachable, then no one is.
A little less talk, a lot more action. When we see even GOP lawmakers who are recognizing and proclaiming Obama’s violation of the Constitution and then ignoring that Constitution and the power they have to impeach — it gets kind of frustrating for the American people.
Or at least for the segment of the American people who aren’t in on the scam and take yakkers like Palin seriously. But let’s talk more about impeachable offenses:
He has allowed his subordinates and he himself to fraud the American people on these programs, these policies, that he has promised will work or not impact debt or deficit. These have been lies by our president. Yes, those are impeachable offenses.
Remember, the Constitution defines impeachable offenses as “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”, not “being too optimistic about your proposals”. But don’t worry, Palin has consulted “experts”.
Experts, attorneys, they have a list of at least 25 impeachable offenses.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Surely, every web site that mentions Palin’s call for impeachment (especially her own web site or her Fox or Breitbart columns) will link to that list so we can examine it. Because nobody would just throw a number out there to make herself sound smart, or to create the vague idea that there are specifics somewhere, even though I don’t have time to go into them right now. Otherwise, the 25 impeachable offenses would be like Senator Joe McCarthy’s famous list of Communists in the State Department, which started out at 205 and at various other times was 57 or 81 or ten names long. As history.com reports: “In fact, McCarthy never produced any solid evidence that there was even one communist in the State Department.”
25 “impeachable” offenses. It wasn’t on SarahPAC.com or Foxsnews.com or any other obvious place, but eventually I found the list. It seems to come from a report by the Committee for Justice, which in turn relies on a memo written by nine Republican state attorneys general in 2010. The CFJ was originally an astroturf organization created to support President Bush’s most conservative judicial nominees, though apparently it has found new justifications for its existence over the last five years.
I can see why nobody links to the list: It’s rhetoric, not law, and many of its points depend on “facts” that only exist in the conservative echo chamber.* Like #1:
Obama Administration uses IRS to target conservative, Christian and pro-Israel organizations, donors, and citizens.
Darrell Issa has been investigating this to death for more than a year and so far has come up with exactly nothing: no conservative groups were harmed, no IRS political motives have been found, and no communication channel with the White House has been identified. #5 is about Obama’s
21 separate Executive Orders that attack and undermine your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
You can contemplate these nefarious orders in all their bureaucratic horror here. In #7:
Obama forced ObamaCare on an unwilling public through bribery and lying about its cost.
and also by passing it through the independently elected Congress, which did its own cost estimates. And apparently no one has ever before added a special provision to a bill to get a key senator’s vote. (The allegedly suspect provision didn’t survive into the final bill.)
#8 goes all the way back to Operation Fast & Furious.
Investigators suspect that Fast & Furious was an effort by the Obama Administration to discredit lawful gun ownership in America by purposefully creating gun crimes, thus inducing public outcry for gun control.
“Investigators” like Rush Limbaugh and the NRA, but nobody remotely knowledgeable or reputable. And notice, they don’t even claim to have evidence, they just “suspect”. Congress should impeach Obama because the NRA suspects he did something wrong.
It goes on like that. These are the “expert” specifics behind Palin’s vague impeachment rhetoric. No wonder the Republican chair of the Judiciary Committee said this Sunday:
The Constitution is very clear as to what constitutes grounds for impeachment of the president of the United States. He has not committed the kind of criminal acts that call for that.
Other lists of offenses. South Dakota’s GOP convention passed an impeachment resolution that listed other things, like Obama trading Guantanamo detainees to get Sergeant Bergdahl back from the Taliban or allowing the EPA regulating carbon emissions as the Supreme Court has ruled that the Clean Air Act instructs it to do.
Ted Cruz has put out his own list. He doesn’t mention impeachment, but simply points to “abuses of power”. Cruz’ list has more than 40 entries of similar quality to other lists. For example, President Obama has
Extended federal marriage benefits by recognizing, under federal law, same-sex marriages created in a state that allows same-sex marriage even if the couple is living in a state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.
In other words, Obama is obeying the Constitution’s requirement to give full faith and credit to the”public acts, records, and judicial proceedings” of the states, even ones that allow same-sex marriage. He
Ordered Boeing to fire 1,000 employees in South Carolina and shut down a new factory because it was non-union.
Actually the NLRB did that — because Boeing was breaking the labor laws the NLRB is supposed to enforce — as Cruz’ own reference says. Obama appoints members to the Board, but doesn’t control it.
There’s a lot of stuff like that. It will stir your blood if you’re a Fox-News-watching conservative. But the two-thirds of the country that doesn’t identify as conservative is going to wonder what the fuss is about and why Congress is doing this rather than raising the minimum wage or creating jobs or passing immigration reform or doing something about those refugee kids on our doorstep.
President Obama would love to see those baseless impeachment hearings happen before the fall election. John Boehner would hate it.
* I sympathize with one point: #21, the “kill list” of American citizens who can be targeted by drones or military raids. It actually exists and violates those citizens’ due process rights. But impeachment is a premature remedy, because Congress has done absolutely nothing to protest — and it probably can’t, given that the kill list is one of those War on Terror programs many Republicans like. Impeachment shouldn’t be Congress’ first option; first they could try a joint resolution denouncing the kill list, or a law specifically making it illegal. If they can’t pass that much, they’ve got no business proceeding to impeachment.