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Call It Impeachment-Lite

The case for censuring the president is being bruited about in Washington.

Sep 8, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 48 • By TERRY EASTLAND
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Among those arguing the case for censuring Obama is Charles J. Cooper, the appellate lawyer who headed
sup the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the second Reagan term. Whereas Boehner’s lawsuit concerns one matter only, Cooper’s resolution—the one he recommends, that is—would target the entirety of the problem, as Republicans see it. Obama, said Cooper in a recent speech, “has violated his oath of office comprehensively, for he has done that which the Constitution forbids him to do, and he has not done that which the Constitution requires him to do.” (Emphasis is Cooper’s.)

In the latter category—not doing what the Constitution requires—are derelictions of duty in implementing the Affordable Care Act, says Cooper, such as the delays in the employer mandate, the subject of the House’s lawsuit against the president. But it is an example that Cooper places in the first category—doing what the Constitution forbids—that is his strongest, pitting Obama against himself.

In 2011, Obama said he couldn’t “just suspend deportations through executive order” because there are “laws on the books by Congress .  .  . [and] for me to simply through executive order ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president.” But when Congress didn’t pass legislation that would have achieved his policy preference—exempting from deportation up to 1.76 million illegal aliens who were children upon arrival in the United States—Obama made the law on his own, by executive order.

To judge by his caustic views of the Republican House, it’s doubtful that Obama would take seriously a House effort to censure him. More likely, just as he invited the House to “sue me” when those plans were announced, he would now say, again with attitude, “Censure me.” And, as he does often, the president would doubtless criticize Congress for failing to act on various issues and offer that as justification for his unilateral action.

Obama’s argument from congressional inaction, which for him is an argument from necessity, may have less sympathy in the media than Obama realizes. In an editorial earlier this month, the Washington Post urged Obama not to make yet more immigration law by executive order. That “Congress is a mess .  .  . doesn’t grant the president license to tear up the Constitution,” said the Post.

House Republicans may or may not consider a censure resolution. What is certain is that a plausible predicate for one is showing no signs of going away.

Terry Eastland is an executive editor at The Weekly Standard.

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