Friday, May 24, 2013

Obama can relax, he won’t be impeached

The “perfect storm” of political scandals that has embroiled the Obama Administration over the past few weeks has some conservatives and Republicans speculating that President Obama might be impeached or be forced to resign in disgrace. While there are plenty of serious accusations of misconduct in the White House and federal government, the scandals are all still in their infancy and President Obama’s precise role is not known. It is all but certain, however, that the president will not be impeached.

The first scandal, the cover-up after the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, is the most advanced. The White House released emails earlier this month that showed that references to al Qaeda had been scrubbed from the administration’s talking points about the attack according to ABC News. ABC reported as early as Oct. 9, 2012 that the street protests were non-existent. More than two weeks after the attack, President Obama was still blaming a “crude and disgusting video” that allegedly “sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world” in a speech to the United Nations. President Obama’s only mention of al Qaeda in the speech was to call it “weakened” in reference to Osama bin Laden’s death. There is still no satisfactory explanation as to why there was no rescue attempt.

The second scandal involves abuse of power by Internal Revenue Service. The IRS admitted on May 10 that it had targeted conservative groups for additional scrutiny during the run-up to the 2012 election. It quickly became apparent that the problem was much more widespread than the IRS had admitted. In fact, the IRS approved no conservative groups at all for a 27 month period beginning in February 2010 according to USA Today. There were other abuses as well, including audits of Obama’s political critics and attempts to force a pro-life group to stop protesting Planned Parenthood according to Examiner. The IRS had even planted the press conference question that Lerner answered to ignite the scandal in an apparent attempt to preempt a government report on the matter.

President Obama and his aides claimed to learn of the scandal “when it came out in the news” according to Yahoo News, however multiple reports show that the White House counsel learned about the internal investigation of the matter several weeks earlier. Lois Lerner, the IRS official who broke the story, learned about the matter as early as 2011 according to the Washington Post. Several senators were also aware of the investigation, but had been unable to get answers from the IRS before Ms. Lerner’s apology.

The third scandal, the Obama Administration’s broad seizure of Associated Press phone records, may prove to be the most dangerous to Obama. In the course of investigating a leak, the Department of Justice, in another scandal that was wider than initially admitted, secretly subpoenaed phone records for five AP offices and hundreds of reporters over a two month period according to the Washington Post. Typically, government investigators ask news organizations for records or at least provide advance notice of such a subpoena. In this case, the DOJ did neither.

The government cites national security concerns for the phone records, but the case in question, the report of an al Qaeda bomb plot disrupted by federal agents, was actually the subject of a White House news conference on the same day that the AP published its story according to NBC News. Further, the press conference by counterterrorism advisor John Brennan contained an important detail that the AP story lacked: the fact that an inside informant had helped to disrupt the plot. Obama claimed not to know the details of the AP case as late as May 16, three days after the story broke according to Mediaite. Attorney General Eric Holder claimed to have recused himself from the investigation according to USA Today.

The Associated Press scandal may prove most dangerous for Obama because the media has traditionally been sympathetic to Democrats. By launching heavy-handed investigations of media outlets, the Administration risks transforming the cozy relationship to an adversarial one. The problem is compounded by the recent revelation that the FBI secretly monitored a Fox News journalist as a “criminal co-conspirator” in a 2009 leak case. Ironically, the failure of the media to look deeply into other Obama Administration scandals such as Fast and Furious and Solyndra may have encouraged members of the administration to pursue ever more risky political strategies on the assumption that they would not be subjected to rigorous fact-checking by the media.

Regardless of the severity of these scandals, there is almost no chance that any combination of them will result in the president’s impeachment. Under the Constitution, the House of Representatives has the power to impeach the president for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors” which are not defined. Since the House is controlled by Republicans, a vote to impeach should pass handily, so why impeachment so unlikely?

The second step is that the impeached president must then be tried in the Senate in order to be removed from office. The Democrats currently control the Senate 55-45 (including two independents who would probably vote with the Democrats). The Constitution requires a two-thirds vote to remove the president. This means that even if all Republicans in the Senate voted to remove Obama from office, they would still need the votes of 21 Democrats or independents. It would be pointless and possibly counterproductive for Republicans to impeach Obama when they are not able to remove him from office.

In all of U.S. history, only two presidents have been impeached. Neither was removed from office. In 1868, Andrew Johnson was acquitted in the Senate by a single vote after seven senators broke party ranks to support the president. In 1998, Bill Clinton was also acquitted with 45 guilty votes on a perjury charge and 50 votes on an obstruction of justice charge, 21 and 16 votes short of removal respectively. Several Republicans voted for acquittal while no Democrats voted guilty.

The chance that Obama might be forced to resign is slightly better, but still a long shot. Richard Nixon was the only president to resign from office. In the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, Nixon resigned in 1974 to avoid impeachment. President Obama is unlikely to take similar action since the threat of impeachment is so remote. President Obama would probably not consider resignation unless he lost the support of his Democratic base.

Liberals can breathe a sigh of relief that President Obama’s job is probably safe. On the other hand, conservatives can take encouragement from the possibility that Obama may be so damaged by the scandals that he is unable to advance his second term agenda. Likewise, the Democratic Party’s troubles means that Republicans might have better odds in the 2014 midterm elections. Republicans can take comfort from the fact that if Obama were removed from office, Joe Biden would be next in line.

Originally published on

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