Andrew Johnson was an accidental president – Abraham Lincoln had been shot dead and, as vice president, Johnson was simply next in line. No one could fill Lincoln’s shoes, however, and Johnson could be rolled. This sums it up – “Johnson was sworn in as vice president in March 1865, giving a rambling and possibly drunken speech, and he secluded himself to avoid public ridicule. Six weeks later, the assassination of Lincoln made him president.”
No one expected that. Johnson was an embarrassment, and he was vulnerable, and the first guy to be in charge of getting the social and political ways of what was left of the South in line with the rest of the country. Reconstruction never went well, and maybe it’s still not going well after all these years – the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is now pretty much dead, much to the glee of the South, and all Republicans – but that was the task Johnson faced. He made enemies, as would be expected, and on February 24, 1868, the House passed eleven articles of impeachment. Johnson was impeached for the high crime and misdemeanor of violating the Tenure of Office Act – passed by Congress the previous year and vetoed by Johnson. Congress overrode his veto and the new law was that if the Senate had to confirm any presidential appointment, the Senate had to approve that person’s removal. Johnson had replaced his Secretary of War, and a few others. When George Bush replaced Donald Rumsfeld with Robert Gates no one had any say in that, but back then they had different ideas, and a president everyone saw as a useless wimp. They could roll him.
Johnson was acquitted at the Senate trial. Those who wanted him gone fell one vote shy of the two-thirds vote they needed. Drat. The Tenure of Office Act, by the way, was later declared unconstitutional and Congress repealed the act in its entirety in 1887 – the whole thing had been a one-off designed to rid us of this fool. But Johnson was gone soon enough. He was followed by Ulysses S. Grant, the war hero who was a pretty hard drinker too – but a dynamic personality. When Grant stuck it to the unreconstructed South, it stuck. As for Johnson, his impeachment was purely political. He political enemies sensed weakness and they pounced.
Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives on two charges, one of perjury and one of obstruction of justice, on December 19, 1998, and that was pretty much the same thing. It was political. He had tried to wriggle out of a number of embarrassing private sexual matters, and he really had lied about them, but none of that had anything to do with governing the country. None of that was job-related, and he was acquitted of both charges by the Senate on February 12, 1999, and once again, those who wanted him gone fell one vote shy of the two-thirds vote they needed for that.
This time, however, most everyone saw that this was political. Clinton’s poll numbers rose as it all unfolded, with the Republicans slowly releasing explicit sexual detail after explicit sexual detail. The public would be appalled. They weren’t, and in ensuing elections the Republicans lost a whole lot of seats. No one wanted to hear it. The whole thing had been a farce, and all the legal matters were eventually settled with court citations and civil settlements. The nation moved on. Bill Clinton was who he was, an old hound dog of a certain type, but a pretty good president. George W. Bush promised to restore honor and dignity to the White House, and maybe that got him elected after Clinton’s two terms, but there’s obviously more to honor and dignity than keeping it in your pants. We got a sexually circumspect and seemingly dimwitted goofball who made America the laughingstock of the world with his two disastrous wars, and the man who presided over the total collapse of the economy. At least, unlike Johnson and Grant, he didn’t drink. Maybe that counts for something.
Richard Nixon should have been impeached. Both Democrats and Republicans agreed he broke all sorts of actual laws, but before the House could pass the articles of impeachment they were drawing up, Nixon resigned. He knew that this wasn’t political – this was the real thing. Members of his own party showed up at the White House and told him it was time for him to go away. The Senate would certainly convict him – they themselves couldn’t vote to acquit him because he had broken the law, and he’d ruin everything for the party if he stayed to fight this losing battle. He understood. Richard Nixon, the only president who should have been impeached, wasn’t.
Now it’s Obama’s turn, and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza sums up the political situation:
Reports are rampant that President Obama will sign an executive order as soon as this week that will allow up to 5 million undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation. Signing such an order would have explosive political consequences – it would not only reshape the near-term fights in Congress but also have a potentially profound effect on the two parties’ national coalitions heading into the 2016 election and beyond.
Republicans have made it clear that if Obama goes forward, it would be the equivalent of giving the middle finger to their incoming majority – and, by extension, the American public, which helped the GOP gain seats in the House and Senate on Nov. 4.
At a news conference held the day after the midterm elections, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the incoming Senate majority leader, compared Obama’s signing of an executive order on immigration to “waving a red flag in front of a bull.” Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Obama will “burn himself” if he moves forward.
They could impeach him, you know, but the reality is this:
Obama knows that. And it would seem he doesn’t care. Or rather, he has made the calculation that the chances of genuine bipartisanship on virtually anything was so low in the first place that it didn’t make sense not to do what he believes is the right thing. The post-grand-bargain-collapse version of Obama is far less willing to extend his hand to Republicans – having, in his estimation, had it bitten so many times before. He views the “now the well is poisoned” point being made by Republicans as laughable.
Then there is the political calculus Obama is making as it relates to his own party. His decision to postpone the signing of the executive order until after the 2014 elections was a clear bow to Democratic senators seeking reelection in Republican (or at least Republican-leaning) states, who fretted that such a move would doom their chances.
They lost anyway, so now it’s time to do the right thing:
With a Republican Party with which he believes he cannot deal in any meaningful way and a timid congressional Democratic Party (in his estimation), Obama’s decision is a simple one: This is good policy and, in the long term – maybe in the short term, too – good politics.
For Obama, signing an executive order such as this one – in addition to his move on DREAMers during the 2012 campaign – would cement him as the first president who succeeded in bringing the millions of people living in the shadows into the light. For someone who, rightly, sees the possibility of major legislative action on any of his priorities in the final two years of his presidency as a pipe dream, making such a move on immigration is his best/only way to build out a pillar of his second-term legacy.
He can do this, and he’s sort of daring the Republicans to impeach him over it, because they’ll be sorry if they do:
Remember that in the wake of Romney’s defeat, the Republican National Committee commissioned an autopsy to diagnose what went wrong – and what it needed to do to fix it. One of the central conclusions of that document was that Republicans had to be for some sort of comprehensive immigration reform to take that issue off the table for Hispanics and allow the GOP to talk to that community about other things. …
Obama is moving a major chess piece on the board with his planned executive order. Republicans must be careful with their countermove. It will have implications that last well beyond 2014 – or even 2016.
And this is not without precedent:
In 1986, Congress and Reagan enacted a sweeping overhaul that gave legal status to up to 3 million immigrants without authorization to be in the country, if they had come to the U.S. before 1982. Spouses and children who could not meet that test did not qualify, which incited protests that the new law was breaking up families.
Early efforts in Congress to amend the law to cover family members failed. In 1987, Reagan’s Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner announced that minor children of parents granted amnesty by the law would get protection from deportation.
Spouses and children of couples in which one parent qualified for amnesty but the other did not remained subject to deportation, leading to efforts to amend the 1986 law.
In a parallel to today, the Senate acted in 1989 to broaden legal status to families but the House never took up the bill. Through the INS, Bush advanced a new “family fairness” policy that put in place the Senate measure. Congress passed the policy into law by the end of the year as part of broader immigration legislation.
“It’s a striking parallel,” said Mark Noferi of the pro-immigration American Immigration Council. “Bush Sr. went big at the time. He protected about 40 percent of the unauthorized population. Back then that was up to 1.5 million [people]. Today that would be about 5 million.”
But a lawyer who worked on the 1986 law and the 1990 follow-up as an aide to then-Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., said Bush’s action wasn’t controversial because it came after lawmakers had made it clear they were going to tackle the issue.
Who thinks this Congress is going to tackle this issue, or any other for that matter? Maybe that doesn’t matter, as Talking Points Memo reports:
Add Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) charges forward in saying that if President Barack Obama takes executive action to slow deportations of undocumented immigrations he will have performed an impeachable offense. The idea is spreading quickly.
“Well, Charles Krauthammer was asked that same question and I think, just recently on one of the news programs and I have to agree with him of course it would be,” Salmon said on Newsmax TV.
Even Salmon, though, admitted that impeaching Obama wouldn’t be easy.
“But committing an impeachable offense and getting, ya know, the two-thirds in the Senate to convict are two different stories,” Salmon added. “So, I mean, we have to play the hand that we are dealt right now.”
Salmon’s comments, flagged by Buzzfeed on Friday, are actually the latest in a list of Republicans who have made the same argument. Before Salmon conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer also suggested that a possible Obama executive action move on immigration would be “an impeachable offense.”
A day earlier Breitbart’s Caroline May reported that Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) also suggested that impeachment should be an option if Obama takes executive action.
“To me a constitutional question means that we have the option of impeachment,” Jones said.
The calls for impeachment (or predictions about calls for impeachment) are also reaching a fever pitch on Fox News.
You have already floated many rationales for doing so. You’ve wanted to impeach him both for things he’s done and for things you only think he’s done: failing to protect the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi; trading Taliban fighters for a captured American soldier; passing and tweaking legislation – the Affordable Care Act – you dislike; making unconstitutional appointments to executive branch offices. You’ve also wanted to impeach him for things he’s only been reported to be thinking about: sending troops to Syria or using executive orders to change the immigration system.
Pick one of those. Or just impeach him for being from Kenya. At this point, does the rationale even matter?
Hell, it will be good for America:
The U.S. electorate, after all, has a short memory and shorter attention span. It periodically needs what you have periodically provided and what impeachment proceedings would provide yet again: a reminder that something has gone awry in the Grand Old Party. It is no longer the party of Dwight Eisenhower or Ronald Reagan, nor the party of George H. W. Bush nor even the party of former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, your 1996 standard-bearer who said in April, “I thought I was a conservative, but we’ve got some in Congress now who are so far right they’re about to fall out of the Capitol.”
The ever-blunt Dole was only saying what other GOP elders and other concerned observers have been saying for years: You have become an outlier, a haven for cranks and extremists.
Just go for it:
You’ve refused to accept the legitimacy of his presidency, though he was twice elected without Supreme Court help. You’ve supported false theories of foreign birth. You’ve damaged the nation’s credit rating rather than pass a routine debt authorization. You’ve killed your own legislation when you learned that he supported it. You’ve made compromise a curse word. You’ve raised obstruction to high art and made getting nothing done a badge of perverse honor.
Yet, you haven’t managed to get rid of him. What’s left except the ultimate sanction? So for yourself and for the rest of us, please put up or shut up.
Pitts is a bit over the top, but it wasn’t so long ago that the Republicans wanted to talk to America about all the details of oral sex, endlessly, or so it seemed. They seemed obsessed with it, and that called in question just who the dirty old men were here. There is also the matter of executive orders. The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order. Should Lincoln have been impeached? FDR created the Works Progress Administration – the WPA – by executive order. Should he have been impeached over all the roads and bridges and dams and public buildings we’re still using? Harry Truman desegregated the Armed Services by executive order. Should he have been impeached for that?
There is, however, an alternative to impeachment:
One Republican leader on Sunday held open the possibility that his party could move to shut down the government in an attempt to stop President Barack Obama from taking executive action on immigration policy.
A vocal group of conservatives in the House of Representatives is pressing to use government funding as leverage to prevent any White House moves that would allow millions of undocumented immigrants to stay and work in the United States.
That didn’t go well last time. They shut down the government not so long ago for almost two weeks, to force Obama to end Obamacare, pissing off everyone, and then gave up, because they were pissing off everyone, and got nothing from Obama. Ted Cruz led that effort and pissed off his own party. They won’t go there again:
Several Republicans, including some in leadership, have said they were trying to find alternatives that would stop short of directly threatening a government shutdown, and Republican lawmakers on Sunday talk shows acknowledged that the shutdown threat was a less than ideal approach.
“It doesn’t solve the problem. But look, we’re having those discussions… We’re going to continue to meet about this. I know the House leaders are talking about, the Senate leaders are talking about it,” said South Dakota Republican John Thune, who chairs the Senate Republican Conference, on “Fox News Sunday”.
“Republicans are looking at different options about how best to respond to the president’s unilateral action, which many people believe is unconstitutional, unlawful action on this particular issue.”
They know better now:
“I think the president wants a fight. I think he’s actually trying to bait us into doing some of these extreme things that have been suggested. I don’t think we will,” Oklahoma Representative Tom Cole said on ABC’s “This Week”.
Cole said a shutdown was an inappropriate tool and urged a legal challenge to Obama’s action.
Yeah, they could file a lawsuit and see if this Supreme Court would finally rule that all executive orders are unconstitutional, that administering the law should be the prerogative of the legislative branch, not the executive branch, charged with administering the laws. Maybe we shouldn’t have an executive branch, or, alternatively, Congress could do something:
Democratic Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said House Speaker John Boehner could move on the immigration bill already passed by the Senate, whose control Republicans gain next year as a result of this month’s elections.
“The message of the last election was, ‘solve problems, don’t just go to a political standoff, do something,'” Durbin said on CNN’s “State of the Union”. “If the Republicans fail to do it, then the president will act and I will support it.”
Jonathan Chait hones in on the essential problem here:
In the wake of the midterm elections, Republicans said they would prove they could govern. This did not, in contrast to the flickering hopes of bipartisans, mean that they would start passing business-friendly reform bills that Obama would sign. It meant they would keep the kooks locked in the basement. Republicans had swept the elections by making politics boring, relentlessly policing their nominees from uttering any controversial statements, and grinding Washington to a halt. The Republican plan for the next two years was continued, boring gridlock. No shutdowns, no impeachment.
That didn’t work:
The cycle of events was set off by President Obama snubbing the traditional ritual of penitence at his post-midterm press conference, crediting the Republicans with merely a “good night” rather than supplying them with a brandable term like “thumpin'” or “shellacking,” and generally acting un-chastened. He followed this up with a series of steps that displayed a desire to continue acting like the president rather than waiting quietly for his term to end: He endorsed vigorous support for net neutrality, secured a major climate agreement with China, and plans a major liberalization of immigration law through executive action.
They didn’t expect that, and now they’re stuck:
Further inflaming conservative suspicions is the fact that John Boehner wants very badly to pass immigration reform. (Though not badly enough to bring a bill to the House floor.) In a post-election meeting with Obama, Boehner reportedly pleaded for one more chance to pass a bill and even seemed to tacitly accept that Obama would act on his own if that failed…
Boehner is attempting to channel the conservative backlash into a lawsuit against Obama, which stands little chance of succeeding, and would helpfully divert conservative anger away from high-profile political channels. Conservatives, dissatisfied with this probably symbolic measure, are organizing to instead instigate a shutdown fight.
Good luck with that:
The conflict centers on how Congress decides to fund the continued operations of the government. Republican leaders had hoped to pass a year-long bill to keep the government open. Ultraconservative dissidents have instead proposed a short-term bill, which would allow Republicans to come back and attach conditions (weakening Obama’s authority to regulate the environment and revamp immigration enforcement) to any bill to keep the government open. A bill that prevents a shutdown for a year, argues a National Review editorial, “would surrender all leverage Republicans have with government funding.”
That a shutdown gives Republicans any actual leverage, as opposed to imagined leverage, is another right-wing fantasy. It is now fairly well-established that the sole impact of a government shutdown is to make the public hate the party that controls Congress. The gun the conservatives are holding is pointed at their own head.
Forget that. There’s always impeachment:
In recent days, one can detect a slow tectonic shift, as Republicans edge away from lamenting their inability to impeach Obama to longing for the prospect. Charles Krauthammer, perhaps the most influential Republican intellectual in America, wrote a column several months ago calling Obama’s immigration plan “impeachment bait.” It was something deviously conceived to lure Republicans into a reaction that would “likely backfire.”
Last night Krauthammer returned to the subject of impeachment. He is now salivating at that juicy, delicious bait…
That’s absurd, and depressing:
Influential as Krauthammer is, his turnabout hardly commits the party to impeachment, or even a shutdown. These remain more like suicidal gestures by the activist right than serious attempts to commit party suicide. But it is already clear, just days after the election, that contrary to the fondest hopes of Boehner and McConnell, the kooks will not be going quietly.
Of course they won’t. They will demand a government shutdown, which will change nothing and make the party reviled again, and not for just a few weeks this time, or demand articles of impeachment, in spite of how badly that went last time, while Boehner and McConnell try to talk them down, which never seems to work. Obama and the Democrats can sit back and watch them implode again. As much as Obama loves Abraham Lincoln, he’s no Lincoln – but he’s not Andrew Johnson either. This immigration thing is his Emancipation Proclamation.