Jon Roland of the Constitution Society emphasizes the political aspect of impeachment that distinguishes it from technical legal procedures. It was immaterial, he explains, whether the cited offenses “were prohibited by statutes”; what mattered was “the obligations of the offender. . . . The obligations of a person holding a high position meant that some actions, or inactions, could be punishable if he did them, even though they would not be if done by an ordinary person.” In that sense, a president is like a soldier, whose duties make him punishable for actions that would not be offenses if committed by a civilian: such things as abuse of authority, dereliction of duty, moral turpitude, conduct unbecoming, and the violation of an oath.
President Obama, of course, has sworn to uphold the Constitution and is bound to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” (Art. II, Sec. 3). In stark contrast, he has usurped the lawmaking power of Congress by unilaterally amending some statutes and expressly refusing to enforce others — not because they are arguably unconstitutional but because he disagrees with them on policy grounds. For years, he has ignored the law requiring the executive branch to propose Medicare reforms when the program’s trustees issue a warning about inadequate funding. He has made recess appointments when Congress was not in recess. He has flouted judicial rulings, including those invalidating the work of illegally appointed officials. His Justice Department openly and notoriously flouts the Constitution by enforcing the civil-rights laws in a racially discriminatory manner. His administration has knowingly transferred firearms to murderous Mexican criminal enterprises, predictably resulting in the killing of at least one federal Border Patrol officer. He has sued sovereign states in order to extort them into acceptance of his gutting of immigration and voter-identification laws.
After willfully empowering jihadists in Libya by instigating an unprovoked, unauthorized war against a regime the United States regarded as an ally and was funding, the president and his State Department were shockingly derelict in failing to protect American personnel they recklessly kept stationed in Benghazi despite repeated attacks. When American installations there were predictably besieged yet again by jihadists on the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the commander-in-chief compounded his default by abandoning Americans who were under lethal attack, failing to take action to attempt to save them. As a result of this serial malfeasance, four American officials, including the United States ambassador to Libya, were killed — a scandal the administration has exacerbated by stonewalling congressional investigations; attempting to defraud the public into believing an obscure anti-Muslim video provoked the siege; and shamefully jailing the video producer in a transparent effort to prop up the fraud and in violation of the producer’s constitutional rights.
The president, moreover, oversees an administration that has turned the IRS loose to harass his political opponents, frustrating their capacity to organize prior to the 2012 election. And Obama has stood behind his attorney general despite the latter’s citation for contempt of Congress and multiple episodes of false congressional testimony — most recently in connection with the investigation of journalists covering the administration.
With a record like this, George W. Bush would long ago have been impeached and removed.
So Ted Cruz is right: The question of why President Obama is not being impeached is a good one, and the answer is what the answer usually is when a drastic political step has not been taken — the votes are not there. It is a bow to reality: Because impeachment is a political remedy, the commission of impeachable offenses is of far less moment than the lack of a political appetite.
Every political choice has consequences. The Framers intended impeachment as the ultimate accountability. Without at least the credible threat of it, there is no realistic checking of a president who seems increasingly disposed to abuse his awesome powers, in fulfillment of a promise to “fundamentally transform” the United States of America. Maybe we are already transformed. The Framers did not see impeachment as outlandish; it was a realistic response to an imperious executive’s seeking to upend our constitutional order — the specter of which gripped the constitutional convention with fear. In today’s America, there is more political peril in engaging the question of impeachment than in doing the things that make the question relevant.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy.