Should Obama be impeached? Or censured?

An interesting argument from John Fund at NRO today, trying to make the case that impeachment of President Obama is too extreme a remedy and that censuring the chief executive for his overreach is more plausible a course of action.

At issue, is the question of whether or not Obama's executive power grabs have reached the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors." Only about 33% of Americans, in a recent CNN poll agree that impeachment is the proper course of action, but as Fund points out, 45% think the president has overstepped his bounds.

Fund prefers a middle course between the "nuclear weapon" of impeachment and the futile lawsuit contemplated by Republicans: censure.

There is another option, short of impeachment, for sanctioning the President’s unconstitutional conduct in office. The House of Representatives can and should in coming months prepare and debate a unicameral resolution identifying and condemning President Obama’s usurpations of legislative power and his repeated refusal to faithfully execute the laws.

The Congressional Research Service has identified a number of historical precedents in which the Senate or the House has adopted a resolution of censure or disapproval of a president or other executive or judicial officers. Indeed, in 1998, Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein and 37 co-sponsors introduced a joint resolution in the Senate that enumerated President Clinton’s various misdeeds, and “condemn[ed] his wrongful conduct in the strongest terms.” Likewise, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic members of the House proposed similar resolutions, declaring that President Clinton’s actions “fully deserve the censure and condemnation of the American people and the Congress.” 

It is important for our overall political health that we focus our criticism on President Obama’s unconstitutional acts and omissions rather than on the president himself. Lawmakers can word a censure resolution carefully to do this. Impeachment, on the other hand, would inevitably be viewed by many as a personal attack on President Obama.

But while impeachment isn’t appropriate, Congress must not simply acquiesce to President Obama’s numerous violations of the first Article of the Constitution, which is: “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” In the 1830s, Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky offered a Senate resolution denouncing as unconstitutional President Andrew Jackson’s actions against the Bank of the United States. He warned his fellow Senators: “The premonitory symptoms of despotism are upon us; and if Congress does not apply an instantaneous and effective remedy, the fatal collapse will soon come on.”

A resolution of censure would serve as a warning, a sort of constitutional yellow card, that Congress and the American people will not tolerate abuses of power indefinitely and that presidents who so overreach risk having a permanent blot on their record. President Obama should not be removed from office, but we will need more than mere criticism or even a lawsuit to remind him that his first duty is to uphold the laws, and that he is falling short.

I don't think the president realizes the level of outrage that will be unleashed if he amnesties 5 million illegal aliens by executive order. But impeachment would still be an impossibility - due both to time constraints and the probability that the GOP could not get 2/3 of the Senate to convict.

But that doesn't mean that just about all vulnerable red state Senators - and perhaps more - wouldn't vote for censure. No doubt a censure resolution would breeze through the House. But are there 60 Senators to vote for cloture in order for the measure to come to the floor?

Depending on how much outrage there is, it's a possibility. The problem would arise even if 60 Senators voted for cloture. In order to bring the measure to the floor, the censure resolution would have to pass a "motion to proceed" vote. Senator Reid, as majority leader, could theoretically choke off the resolution by any number of parliamentary tricks, including refusing to recognize any Senator who would make the motion to proceed. It's his floor and he can do with it what he wants.

That said, it is unlikely to come to that. Fund's idea is a good one, but practically speaking, it's almost as dead as an impeachment effort.


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