Written on Wednesday, July 3, 2013 by Ralph Barker
The Internet is ablaze with talk about an Obama impeachment. The idea of impeachment is seldom seriously discussed in our country. It is a very rare and extreme measure. Regardless of which party is in power, it is not an easy process to complete, nor should it be. Our highest elected official should not be subject to the winds of whims, prejudice, or politics.
I wondered, with so many emotionally charged issues in the news, whether impeachment is on the minds of many Americans. So, I googled “impeach Obama” and it returned 12,000,000 hits. Apparently, people, possibly millions of people, are wondering if an impeachment is possible or imminent.
There are entire websites and Facebook pages dedicated to the topic. There is page after page of Youtube videos presenting arguments pro and con. To be fair and balanced, I also googled “impeach Bush” and only 2,530,000 returns came back.
Many of us seethe with anger as we learn about multiple government scandals. It is only natural to feel helpless and frustrated when we learn of yet another eight-digit sum of our tax dollars that have been squandered. What further aggravates the situation is that once caught, nothing happens to the perpetrators. They don’t get fired. They don’t go to jail. They escape the situation with only a slap on the wrist.
Consider the most recent revelation: IRS personnel were caught using their credit cards for wine, pornography, diet pills, electronics, and other unauthorized items and services. Then, people wonder why the President has not been impeached for all the current scandals and his gross mismanagement of the Executive Branch?
Is there any evidence to directly link President Obama to all these scandals? The President claims he knows nothing and had no prior knowledge. So far, there is no direct proof that he did. But, if he is not involved, then who is running the country? If the President doesn’t know what his own people are doing then America is leaderless.
Is there any way the President could be impeached? Is it possible? Would Congress act anytime during the current term?
We first have to answer these three questions: “Can President Obama lawfully be impeached?” “What constitutes an impeachable offense?” And, finally, “Has Obama committed any acts that would warrant impeachment?”
The answer to the first question is obviously “yes,” the President can be impeached. The term “impeach” is many times confused with the idea of conviction. Impeachment is merely a presentation of charges by the House of Representatives approved by only a simple majority of the members. If a President is impeached, the Senate would then try the case. A conviction requires a two-thirds majority of the Senate.
Remember, in 1999, that in the case of William (Bill) Jefferson Clinton he was impeached, but not convicted. The House charged him with both perjury and obstruction of justice. The Senate acquitted him of both charges.
Over the long history of the United States only two Presidents have been impeached, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Both were acquitted. Johnson survived by only one vote.
The next question is: What constitutes an impeachable offense? The answer isn’t as clear as many might think. The U.S. Constitution stipulates in Article II, Section IV, that there are only limited reasons for impeachment and only the President, Vice President, and federal officials can be impeached. The reasons stated are treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors.
The first two reasons, treason and bribery, are clearly understood. The last reason, “other high crimes or misdemeanors” causes debate among Constitutional experts. It’s meaning is not as clear.
Some Constitutional scholars such as Dr. Kevin Gutzman, have suggested that the term is much more expansive with possible wider application. The Founding Fathers debated this point. George Mason, for example believed that incompetence was impeachable while James Madison did not.
The Constitutional Rights Foundation offers this insight into the minds of the Framers of our Constitution concerning high crimes and misdemeanors:
The convention adopted “high crimes and misdemeanors” with little discussion. Most of the framers knew the phrase well. Since 1386, the English parliament had used “high crimes and misdemeanors” as one of the grounds to impeach officials of the crown. Officials accused of “high crimes and misdemeanors” were accused of offenses as varied as misappropriating government funds, appointing unfit subordinates, not prosecuting cases, not spending money allocated by Parliament, promoting themselves ahead of more deserving candidates, threatening a grand jury, disobeying an order from Parliament, arresting a man to keep him from running for Parliament, losing a ship by neglecting to moor it, helping “suppress petitions to the King to call a Parliament,” granting warrants without cause, and bribery. Some of these charges were crimes. Others were not. The one common denominator in all these accusations was that the official had somehow abused the power of his office and was unfit to serve.
It boils down to this: Congress will decide what the term “high crimes and misdemeanors” means and what acts fall under that category.
Now for the third question: Has President Obama done anything that would warrant impeachment? Herein lies the rub. Based on what we just discussed concerning “high crimes or misdemeanors” it would depend on whether Congress interpreted the phrase with a broader definition. Some would argue incompetence and malfeasance would qualify.
In old England some cases that involved squandering public money qualified for impeachment. If this were true in our modern American society, there would be a waiting line of federal officials ready to be impeached.
Now, let’s address the really key question. Is there any thing the President has done or will do that will move the Republican House to impeach him? I would put all my money on “no.”
There are at least two reasons they won’t- maybe three – if you include the “spineless” politician factor. But, first, the House is unlikely to act because it would make the Republicans look like bullies and put Obama in the position of being the underdog, just as another election approaches. Americans love underdogs.
On a more practical note, the House would not act in this session because there is not a chance the Democrat-controlled Senate would convict the President. The exception might be if the President did commit some egregiously clear criminal act. If he were to be directly tied to the IRS scandal or Fast and Furious, for example, then action might be forced upon the House and Senate. It would be dereliction of duty if they did not. Don’t count that out either.
There’s no question that the idea of an Obama impeachment is on the minds of many Americans especially from the conservative side of the spectrum. However, barring some new revelations, the chances of impeachment proceedings beginning in the current House is near zero. It just won’t happen.
Don’t forget the downside: If Obama was impeached and removed from office, we get Joe Biden!!!