Issa, who is locked in a legal battle with Attorney General Eric Holder over the House’s subpoena power, says impeachment is a “blunt instrument” and often an “inappropriate” one.
He points out that Holder, in arguing before a court that it did not have jurisdiction over the dispute, noted Congress has the power of impeachment as a possible remedy.
“That, in a sense, is a dangerous thing for a president to say. I don’t know that objecting to a discovery order from the Congress is a high crime or misdemeanor,” Issa says. “But if they take away the tool of court review, and suggest that we only have one tool, then like a carpenter who’s only given a hammer, he’ll use it.”
“And, by the way, I have used a hammer to break a board in half because I didn’t have a saw,” Issa tells me.
Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the previous chairman of the Judiciary Committee, offers this tantalizing explanation for his silence: “The reason I can’t answer any impeachment questions is because any impeachment actions go through the Judiciary Committee, and I don’t want to have to recuse myself.”
The talk of impeachment and overthrow provoked predictable winces among GOP-leadership aides, and there is also a lot of residual disquiet about the tactic from the Clinton experience.
King, for example, notes the first time he set foot in the House Rayburn Office Building, in 1998, was to watch the Judiciary Committee impeachment proceedings against Clinton in person. Then a state senator, King watched as the Senate, in his view, perverted the process, lumping questions of whether Clinton was guilty of the charges in with the question of whether to remove him from office.
“That’s not gonna happen. We’ve been through that with Bill Clinton. I saw that up close and personal. I think I understand the political dynamics that unfolded there. You’ll never get an honest verdict out of the United States Senate if Harry Reid is going to be the majority leader,” he says.
The GOP’s most promising effort is the lawsuits pending in courts across the land. Cannon, for instance, is bringing a legal challenge to Obamacare, contending the law doesn’t authorize subsidies or tax penalties in states using the federal exchange.
Simon Lazarus, the Democrats’ legal witness at the Judiciary hearing Tuesday, struggled mightily to articulate a plausible defense against the argument.
Another Obamacare challenge is over the fact that the bill included tax increases but originated in the Senate. Under the Constitution, tax bills are supposed to start in the House.
The union representing federal employees who enforce the southern border have a pending lawsuit over Obama’s unilateral DREAM Act.
Issa just won a round against Holder on the subpoena matter. And there are a good number of other suits.
Several legal victories in a row could snowball into momentum, bringing the public’s attention to the issue. The Judiciary Committee hearing itself is a sign that the GOP is going to be taking Obama to the mat on his legal authority more than in the past.
In the meantime, though, the House GOP seems, at times, helpless to stop Obama. It’s that sense — that they’re flailing, and there are no other options — that could finally have Republicans confidently uttering the i-word.
— Jonathan Strong is a political reporter for National Review Online.