The Great Impeachment Debate

By: Laura Owsiany

Conservatives who say President Barack Obama abused the executive order have been buzzing with rumors of impeachment or a lawsuit against the president this summer.

Former Vice Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin made waves last Tuesday when she wrote an op-ed for calling Obama’s impeachment on grounds of his “lawlessness,” particularly with regards to border protection and what she called “Obama’s flood of illegal immigration.” Other controversial moves include his decision to delay the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, orders regarding U.S. border enforcement, and withholding information from Congress in the prisoner exchange of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Multiple Republican leaders have since decried impeachment, including Speaker of the House John Boehner and several Tea Party conservatives. With just 9 days left in this session of Congress and Republicans divided on whether or not Obama has committed impeachable offenses, there simply isn’t enough time for an impeachment trial. Furthermore, impeachment requires a hearing by the Democrat-dominated Senate, which would certainly not convict him, leaving Republicans looking unorganized just before the midterm elections.

Only two Presidents have ever been impeached: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, who were both acquitted. Richard Nixon resigned before impeachment. In 2006, House Democrats had considered impeaching Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush over similar critiques of his use of executive power, in that case over the war in Iraq, but were refuted by party leader Nancy Pelosi.

Amidst talk of impeachment, John Boehner announced Thursday that he will lead the House of Representatives in a lawsuit against Obama for delaying the ACA’s employer mandate, raising a host of new questions.

The mandate required employers of over 50 people to provide healthcare coverage. Obama issued waivers allowing employers of over 50 employees to delay until 2015, and those employing between 50 and 99 until 2016, in order to adjust to the change. Republicans supported the delay, but claimed Obama overstepped executive power by bypassing Congress and issuing waivers himself.

A lawsuit is much less serious than impeachment. If Obama were convicted under the lawsuit, he could still remain in office. The lawsuit could also continue after Obama leaves office, giving Congress much more time to prepare and argue a case.

Still, according to the National Journal, it may be difficult to prove not only that Obama’s actions were illegal, but also that Congress has a right to sue. The House will have to prove that the question of the ACA waivers is a legal dispute in which Obama did not carry out the law as it was written by the legislature, rather than a political one, which may be difficult considering the Republicans who control the House are a political body.

Republicans and Democrats alike have criticized the suit as a waste of congressional time, particularly with the ongoing border crisis still unresolved as the August recess draws nearer. The Obama administration called the suit a “political stunt.”

Palin, on the other hand, mocked the suit for not being extreme enough to combat Obama’s abuses, and a Washington Post blogger wrote Tuesday that Boehner’s recommendation will drive more Republicans who want swift results to support impeachment.

Public opinion on the lawsuit and impeachment remains fuzzy. A poll by YouGov released Monday showed that 35% of Americans, 68% of Republicans and 8% of Democrats, think there is justification for impeachment. The Huffington Post released a poll late Monday showing greater support for Boehner’s lawsuit, at 41%. According to the same poll, a majority, 51%, believed the suit to be a political stunt to gain support for Republicans in the upcoming election.

Whether intended or not, the move is likely to influence the midterms, either by agitating the Republican party to vote in greater numbers or in driving moderates and undecided voters away from a party they might perceive as reckless. Clamors for impeachment and Boehner’s lawsuit are the culmination of Republican critiques of Obama that have colored his administration since Republicans took control of the House in 2010.

Image: AP via Politico