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Impeachment "Lite"

Speaker John Boehner has ushered a bill through the House to sue the president. Is impeachment next?
Speaker John Boehner has ushered a bill through the House to sue the president. Is impeachment next?
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Who says the Republican-controlled House of Representatives can’t get anything done?

In what passes for a legislative blink-of-an-eye, the House Wednesday voted along party lines to sue President Obama for delaying implementation of parts of the Affordable Care Act.

Republicans rammed through the lawsuit authorization while up against a tight deadline: The start of their five-week summer vacation, during which they can go about the really important business facing members of Congress — getting reelected. Once returned to office in November, House Republicans can come back to Washington to do nothing.

Except perhaps impeach the president.

Speaker John Boehner may look upon suing the president as impeachment "lite" — a way to show extremist Republicans that the House leadership will stand up to the president short of a politically toxic vote to impeach him.

The problem with Boehner’s strategy is that the debate on the floor of the House on suing Obama logically points to impeaching him.

Note the rhetoric on the right. “Our forefathers recognized that one man who can both make the law and enforce the law is not a president. He’s a king!” warned Representative Tom Rice of South Carolina, drawing comparisons to King George III. Candice Miller of Michigan said Obama’s attempt to “both impose and then enforce the law… amounts to tyranny.” Jeff Duncan of South Carolina opined, “Our Constitution does not say the president gets to write his own laws.”

I could go on, but the impetus is clear: If you believe the president is a tyrant, if you label him a lawbreaker, if you liken him to King George, then what alternative is there but to rid the nation of the tyrant, the lawbreaker, the second coming of King George? Indeed, the president deserves the fate of King Louis XVI before the guillotine, but fortunately the United States has a safer and less bloody alternative — impeachment.

North Carolina Republican Walter Jones understands the logic. “Why not impeach instead of wasting $1 million to $2 million of the taxpayers’ money? … If you’re serious about this, use what the founders of the Constitution gave us,” Jones told The Hill Wednesday.

Boehner wants to steer clear of impeachment because he knows it’s a political loser, likely to cost Republicans votes in November while boosting Democratic fund raising (the party raised one million dollars on Monday alone).

In a wondrous example of political double speak, the Republicans charge their opponents with fanning the impeachment issue. Boehner says such talk is “a scam started by Democrats at the White House.” Karl Rove claims Obama is trying to raise a “constitutional crisis where none exists.” And radio talk show host Glen Beck asks:

“Do you think anyone in Washington in the GOP is serious about impeachment? Do you think one person? Have you spoken to one person? No one. So who wants it? The president does.”

Beck has a selective memory. Here’s what he said a year ago: “I called today for the very first time in my career…I personally am calling to impeach the President of the United States.”

Beck isn’t alone in seeking Obama’s impeachment. Such leading lights on the right as former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Representative Steve Stockman of Texas as well as the aforementioned Jones have raised what Palin calls the “I-word.”

Boehner has exhibited little ability in the past to control his fractious caucus, so there’s reason to worry that his let’s-avoid-the-subject-of-impeachment-by-suing strategy may backfire. Impeachment or lawsuit, it all amounts, in the words of Democratic Representative Louise Slaughter, to “a sorry spectacle of legislative malpractice.”

But it’s the only kind of practice — “mal” or otherwise — that’s likely to come out of the current House. Republicans have had time to authorize a frivolous lawsuit against the president — frivolous because it has virtually no chance of success — while failing to do the nation’s business. They have not even brought to the floor legislation to raise the minimum wage, extend unemployment insurance, or overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

Why legislate when you can litigate?