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“House Republicans Want To Impeach Someone, Anyone”: Republicans Get Serious About Impeachment, But Not Obama’s

Quick quiz: when was the last time the U.S. Congress actually impeached an appointed executive branch official? It was 1876 – 140 years ago – when the House impeached Ulysses S. Grant’s War Secretary, William Belknap, over corruption allegations.

Nearly a century and a half later, House Republicans appear eager to give Belknap some company. The Washington Post reported yesterday:

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) introduced a resolution on Wednesday to censure IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, raising the stakes in the GOP war against the tax collector days before a hearing on whether to impeach him.

The four-page resolution seeks Koskinen’s resignation or removal by President Obama and calls on the IRS chief to forfeit his federal pension.

Chaffetz, the far-right chairman of the House Oversight Committee, explained in a statement yesterday, “I view censure as a precursor to impeachment.” He added a few weeks ago, “My foremost goal is impeachment and I’m not letting go of it.”

No, of course not. That might be responsible.

By any sane metric, the idea of congressional impeachment against the IRS commissioner is bonkers. House Republicans are apparently still worked up about an IRS “scandal” that doesn’t exist, and though Koskinen wasn’t even at the agency at the time of the alleged wrongdoing, GOP lawmakers want to impeach him because they disapprove of his handling of the imaginary controversy.

Given that the year is half over, Koskinen won’t be in the job much longer – he’ll likely leave office when the Obama administration wraps up – and there’s no credible reason to believe the Senate will remove the IRS chief from office, why bother with impeachment? Politico reported something interesting yesterday:

Two weeks ago, in a closed-door meeting with Paul Ryan, Reps. Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows gave the speaker an ultimatum: They would force a House vote to impeach the IRS commissioner — unless he allowed the Judiciary Committee to take action against John Koskinen instead.

The two founding members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus had been working behind the scenes for well over a year to take down Koskinen for accusations that he obstructed a congressional investigation. GOP leaders and senior republicans, however, had never been keen on the idea, fearing it was ultimately futile and that the spectacle would backfire on Republicans.

Right-wing lawmakers would not, however, take no for answer. Jordan and Meadows vowed to force an impeachment vote onto the floor unless House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) signed off an impeachment hearing in the Judiciary Committee, and the Republican leader relented. The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

But given the fact that Koskinen hasn’t actually committed any impeachable offenses, it’s hard not to get the impression that many House Republicans want to impeach someone, anyone, just for the sake of being able to say they impeached someone.

As we discussed last fall, congressional Republicans have spent years talking up the idea of impeaching President Obama. At various times, GOP lawmakers have also considered impeaching then-Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. In October, one Republican congressman said he’s eager to impeach Hillary Clinton, and she hasn’t even been elected.

I continue to believe much of this is borne of partisan frustration: Republican investigations into Benghazi and other manufactured “scandals,” including the IRS matter itself, have effectively evaporated into nothing. That’s deeply unsatisfying to GOP hardliners, who remain convinced there’s Obama administration wrongdoing lurking right around the corner, even if they can’t see it, find it, prove it, or substantiate it any way.

Unwilling to move on empty handed, impeaching the IRS chief will, if nothing else, make Republican lawmakers feel better about themselves.

But that doesn’t change the fact that this partisan tantrum is indefensible. Koskinen took on the job of improving the IRS out of a sense of duty – the president asked this veteran public official to tackle a thankless task, and Koskinen reluctantly agreed. For his trouble, Republicans want to impeach him, for reasons even they’ve struggled to explain.

It’s ridiculous, even by the low standards of this Congress.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 19, 2016

May 20, 2016 Posted by | House Republicans, Impeachment, Internal Revenue Service, John Koskinen | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Hardly Unprecedented”: On Immigration, Law Is On Obama’s Side

The legal controversy surrounding the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement policies will soon come to a head when the Supreme Court justices hear the case United States v. Texas on Monday. Texas claims that the president’s executive decisions lack legal sanction by Congress and have injured the state.

But whether or not you like President Obama’s actions, he has operated under longstanding provisions of law that give the executive branch discretion in enforcement. This presidential prerogative has been recognized explicitly by the Supreme Court. Moreover, the nature of immigration enforcement and the resources (or lack thereof) appropriated by Congress necessitate exactly the type of choices that the president has made.

Congress has repeatedly granted the executive branch broad power in enforcing immigration laws. The 2002 law creating the Department of Homeland Security explicitly said the executive should set “national immigration enforcement policies and priorities.” The Supreme Court has recognized the leeway Congress gives the executive branch in deportations. In a 2012 majority opinion written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the court noted that “a principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials,” including the decision “whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all.”

Setting enforcement priorities is vital to the effectiveness of our immigration laws. Congress can’t anticipate every situation. This is why the Supreme Court recognized in 1950 that immigration law is an area where “flexibility and the adaptation of the congressional policy to infinitely variable conditions constitute the essence of the program.”

The immense moral and legal consequences of a deportation campaign targeting up to 11 million undocumented immigrants are obvious. Even Americans whose frustration has overcome their compassion and led them to support the harshest immigration enforcement would be likely to reconsider if they actually saw such an operation in action.

A huge roundup like that would require an extraordinary expansion of federal law enforcement capabilities and resulting intrusions into American society. But in reality, there is no prospect for such a campaign because Congress has not made available more than a small fraction of the necessary money and manpower.

This is why, by its nature, immigration enforcement requires executive discretion.

The administration’s initiatives allow Homeland Security officials to forgo deportation, on a case-by-case basis, of undocumented residents who came here as children before June 15, 2007, and of certain undocumented parents of children who are American citizens or legal residents. Both are in keeping with similar programs put in place by both Republican and Democratic presidents dating from the Eisenhower administration.

In 1990, for example, under President George H.W. Bush, the immigration service, relying in part on authority dating from the Reagan administration, offered extended voluntary departure and work authorization to the spouses and children of aliens who had previously been granted legal status.

President Obama’s actions, therefore, are hardly unprecedented. There are two major differences. First, he gave speeches advocating for explicit programs with names, rather than relying on subtler agency direction.

Second, immigration policy has been caught up in today’s hyper-partisanship, where a strident anti-immigration tide within the Republican Party overwhelms all bipartisan compromise. All 26 state officials who have challenged the administration’s executive actions in the Supreme Court case are Republicans, and last month the G.O.P.-led House of Representatives voted to file an amicus brief on behalf of the entire House.

From these howls of outrage, you wouldn’t know that the Obama administration has vastly exceeded the deportations under President George W. Bush. And Mr. Bush vastly exceeded those of President Clinton. President Obama’s directives to focus enforcement efforts on those who have committed crimes in the United States and recent border crossers are a rational executive prioritization, given the resources and the realities.

These facts undercut Texas’s argument that it is unduly burdened by the president’s decisions. With deportations aimed at criminals and new border crossers, we would seem close to an optimal state-friendly federal immigration policy.

When the president took his executive action on immigration, he was not flouting the will of Congress; rather, he was using the discretion Congress gave him to fulfill his constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”


By: Richard G. Lugar, Represented Indiana in the United States Senate from 1977-2013, President of the Lugar Center;  Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, April 18, 2016

April 19, 2016 Posted by | Congress, Immigration Reform, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Walmart Christmas For Congress”: The Senate Should Cancel Its Own Christmas And Stay In Session Until 2015

Assuming Democrats and Republicans agree on a bill to fund the government by Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner has told his members that they will recess after that. Despite Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s annual threats to keep the upper chamber in session through the holidays, the Senate is scheduled to do the same. But it shouldn’t. Instead, Reid should keep the Senate in session until Republicans take over next year in order to confirm as many executive branch and judicial nominees as possible.

Consider the actions of Senate Republicans during the past six years. Led by Majority Leader-Elect Mitch McConnell, the GOP used the filibuster to block President Barack Obama’s nominations for key executive branch and judicial positions. In some casessuch as the nomination for the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureauthey refused to confirm any nominee unless Democrats made specific changes to the program. In other words, they used the nomination process as leverage to extract policy changes from Democrats. They often refused to confirm any judicial branch nominees. Sick of these tactics, Democrats changed the rules of the Senate in November 2013 so that all executive branch and non-Supreme Court judicial nominees could not be filibustered. In the 13 months since, Senate Democrats have spent much of their time confirming nominees.

That will end in January as Republicans are expected to clog upif not seal off altogetherthe nominations process. “The difference between 50 Democratic senators (plus a tie-breaking vote by Joe Biden) and 49 Democratic Senators is the difference between two full years of filling the judiciary and two years of likely gridlock,” New York’s Jonathan Chait wrote before the midterms.

Relations between the parties have only worsened since then with Obama’s executive action on immigration. In a pre-buttal to that move, Senator Ted Cruz proposed that Congress “not confirm a single nomineeexecutive or judicialoutside of vital national security positions, so long as the illegal amnesty persists.” It’s not clear whether Republicans will take up that strategy, or how many nominees are “of vital national security positions,” but pressure from the Texas conservative will not make the nomination process any smoother.

That’s what makes Reid’s decision about whether or not to keep the Senate in session so important. Any time spent in recess between now and when the 114th Congress begins on January 3 is time that could have been used to confirm nomineesnominees that won’t be confirmed otherwise. Lawmakers will likely object to working through the holidays. If Reid must give them a couple of days off around Christmas and New Year’s, to appease them, he should do so. But it is too important for the functioning of the executive branch and the makeup of the courts to spend the entire time on holiday.


By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, December 8, 2014

December 9, 2014 Posted by | Christmas, Congress, Harry Reid, John Boehner | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Congress Does Nothing But Sue Obama”: Boehner’s Obama Lawsuit Is The Fault Of The Do-Nothing Congress

House Republicans are so angry that President Obama has been going around them to make policy that Speaker John Boehner says he will file a lawsuit against Obama to stop what the GOP sees as abuse of executive power. Said Boehner:

The Constitution makes it clear that a president’s job is to faithfully execute the laws. In my view, the president has not faithfully executed the laws. When there are conflicts like this between the legislative branch and the administrative branch, it’s … our responsibility to stand up for this institution.

Hello, pot? It’s the kettle calling. You’re black.

Boehner’s right in that the executive branch has been driving policy changes – even ones around the edges – and often using executive orders to do it. Obama is not the only president to do this, and it’s understandable that Congress would be irked at not being made a part of the process.

What rings hollow here is that Congress has aggressively chosen not to be part of the process. The 113th Congress is the least effective Congress in recent history, unable to get even basic budget and appropriations items, let alone a comprehensive immigration bill or entitlement reform. This Congress, and the House in particular, has made it a mission to oppose pretty much anything Obama wants to do (even, in some cases, where what Obama wants to do is not that dissimilar to what a lot of Republicans say they want). That’s their right, but it’s not rational for them to expect Obama to just sit by, throw up his hands and say, “oh, well – I guess I just won’t have any impact on the nation, even though I’m president.” (Though that would serve a Republican goal, too, giving them fodder to call Obama “weak” and “ineffective.”)

And it’s not as though the legislative branch hasn’t tried to flex its muscles and push around other branches of government . The House, in the past, has considered legislation that says, in the text, that the law cannot be subject to judicial review. Another bill would force another branch of government, the Supreme Court, to allow cameras in the room during oral arguments – something the high court doesn’t want and sees as a legislative branch encroachment on its day-to-day workings.

And is Obama really the only “kinglike” figure here? Mitt Romney, in the 2012 campaign, repeatedly pledged to undo Obamacare – a law written by Congress and passed by Congress – by executive order on his first day in office. Obama has been fiddling with enforcement and application of laws and regulations administered by the executive branch. Romney wanted to undo an entire law, just because it was approved by people who were duly elected by their constituents but with whom Romney does not agree. Rick Santorum, running in 2012, listed nine executive orders he planned to issue to undo laws of the land relating to abortion, stem cell research and gay marriage. He also pledged to call on Congress to abolish the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a court whose rulings Santorum did not like.

Power abhors a vacuum. And if Congress categorically refuses to participate in the law-making process, it can’t expect other branches to follow suit. The Supreme Court has had a major role recently in public policy, especially issues such as gay marriage. It’s not because nine justices are sitting in a room, wringing their collective hands in a menacing way while laughing evilly. It’s because the legislative and executive branches have been unable to work together and recognize each other’s authority.

So some in Congress think Obama is taking too much power in the way he does his job. Maybe if Congress would do its job, there would be no problem.


By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, June 26, 2014

June 27, 2014 Posted by | Congress, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“God Save The United States From This Anti-Democratic Court”: SCOTUS Is Increasingly A Threat To Our Ideal Of Self-Government

Should a self-respecting democracy have a Supreme Court like ours, with the power to overturn democratic legislation? More and more progressive observers are not so sure. But one thing is clear: we need a more mature relationship with the Court and, through it, a more open and democratic relation to the Constitution.

Polls consistently find that the Court is the best-respected branch of government, well ahead of Congress and the presidency. A wave of critics, though, has been denouncing it as anti-democratic and regressive. Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the U.C. Irvine law school and a prominent constitutional lawyer and scholar, is about to publish a book called The Case Against the Supreme Court, arguing that the Men in Black (more recently, Persons in Black) have done more harm than good on key issues like race, economic fairness, and preventing abuse of government power. Ian Millhiser, a constitutional analyst at the liberal Center for American Progress, will publish a book by the same title next March. Further to the left, Jacobin has published a set of forceful attacks, summarized in Rob Hunter’s recent conclusion that “judicial interference with democracy” should become “unthinkable.”

The pendulum of anti-Court criticism has swung from left to right to left again in the last century. Progressives railed against a conservative, pro-market Court until Franklin Roosevelt finally knocked it back on its heels during the New Deal. In the 1960s, billboards in conservative parts of the country urged, “Impeach Earl Warren,” the liberal chief justice. Now, with the Court knocking out campaign finance regulation, parts of Obamacare, and the Voting Rights Act—plus menacing affirmative action, climate regulation, and labor rights—the left is remembering what it doesn’t like about letting justices review democratic legislation.

Apart from its ideological switches, the Supreme Court has two persistent anti-democratic features that might give a self-respecting democracy pause. First is that, although it is not always a conservative institution, it is always an elite one. Justices are picked from and mix in the highest echelons of the American professions. Tocqueville called professionals, especially lawyers, the American version of aristocracy, and the Supreme Court represents the aristocratic branch of the Constitution. This makes sense when they are deciding technical legal questions, but it raises more doubts when a democracy assigns a professional elite to work out the meaning of liberty and equality, or the right relationship between the federal government and the states.

The Court’s other anti-democratic feature is connected with its status as the best-respected branch of government. Its power, more than that of the presidency and much more than Congress’s, is symbolic, even mystical. The robes and the marble temple of the Supreme Court, the fact that oral arguments aren’t broadcast or photographed, all add to the mystique. They make the Court an oracular interpreter of the 225-year-old Constitution that serves as the most basic American law.

For this reason, it’s the rare radical democrat who will denounce the Supreme Court right down the line. Whatever they think of the Court’s other decisions, progressives will generally celebrate without reservation on the all-but-certain day when the Court established marriage equality nationwide. Most Americans think of the Constitution as being ultimately on their side, and identify the Constitution with the Supreme Court. When they agree with the Court’s decision, they tend to think the country has been called back to its best self. When they disagree, they tend to think there has been a regrettable, maybe terrible, mistake.

The perverse thing is that, when a country puts questions of basic principle into the hands of just a few interpreters, and gives those interpreters life tenure, the issue becomes less “What does equality mean to Americans?” than “What does equality mean to Justice Kennedy?” That is not a healthy question for democratic citizens to ask about their basic values. It is what would fit a monarchy better: “What is the king feeling today?”

Americans’ willingness to accept the Supreme Court’s mystical role is partly a symptom of disappointment in our own democratic capacities. Congress is the most directly representative body of the federal government, and almost no one sees it as having principled authority or moral charisma. Hoping that the Supreme Court will make us better than we can otherwise be, better than our own representative institutions, is neither self-respecting nor very likely to succeed.

We shouldn’t let the Court off the hook, though. The problem isn’t just that we date judicial review because we don’t think we deserve better. The Court maintains its own mystical charisma, especially by keeping out cameras, and, in recent decades, it has degraded the other institutions by clearing a broad path for big money to enter politics. It keeps itself special, and its decisions sometimes make other branches of government even more disappointing.

Big arguments about whether we should even have a Supreme Court with the power of judicial review are interesting, but there are equally important and more practical questions about what to do with the Court we have. Chemerinsky makes a couple of excellent practical suggestions, which others have also pressed.

First, opening the Court to cameras would let people see the justices for what they are: smart and well-trained human beings wrangling over hard, charged questions with knotty legal materials. It might drain the sense of the Court as an oracle, and bring home the reality that this is, basically, a very high-level committee of elite lawyers. That would open the question of which decisions we want such a committee to decide.

Second, and more radical, would be reconfiguring the Court. Chemerinsky suggests replacing life tenure with 18-year terms, meaning a new seat would open up every two years, and every president would get an equal number of appointments. This would make the Court’s relationship to the larger democracy less arbitrary. (Nixon appointed four justices in his first two years; Jimmy Carter got none.) Even more important, though, it would end the irritating and distorting tradition of the swing justice, whose temperamental sense of what justice requires matters more than either James Madison’s words or a majority of Americans’ considered views.

An even more radical step would be to replace the nine-person Court with a pool of senior and respected federal judges who would serve on rotating panels. A decision of such a panel would still be the last word on the question, but the judgments would reflect more of an average of legal expertise and seasoned judgment than the particular convictions of nine life-tenured justices.

The real advantage of these reforms is that they would be the beginning of an experiment in living with a less mystified Supreme Court and a more realistic idea of the relationship between judging and politics. In light of that experiment, future Americans could decide which questions they should trust to committees of lawyers and which they should decide more directly. Where democratic institutions are failing, as Congress is now, they might even ask how to revive them, rather than hope for a saving decision from the Court. That would be a step toward building a democracy that could respect itself—and deserve the respect.


By: Jedediah Purdy, The Daily Beast, June 22, 2014

June 23, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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