Ferguson: To impeach or not to impeach

November 29, 2013 

The fervent anti-Obama crowd has gone to new levels of apoplexy now that Obamacare has revealed itself to be every bit as awful as its detractors warned us it would be. The calls for his impeachment have grown louder than ever, and some Republican House members are at least giving lip service to the possibility that they might pursue that course.

Central to the impeachment argument is the fact that the president told Americans that they would be able to keep their current insurance if they wanted to once the Affordable Care Act was in place, and that has turned out to be a complete falsehood. In fact many Americans who had reasonably priced, minimal-coverage plans are being forced to upgrade to far more expensive plans due to all the additional rules imposed by the new law.

I don’t think that most Americans knew enough about the complex legislation to know this was coming, so it has come as an unwelcome surprise for many of us. But it is impossible to believe that Obama and his advisers didn’t know full well that this was going to happen.

That makes his lie particularly galling. We are used to politicians stretching the truth out on the campaign trail, but this particular lie helped garner public support for something that has ended up hurting a lot of Americans.

The president willfully lied to us and we are justifiably ticked off. But was what he did grounds for impeachment, or is this just another thing we have to chalk up to the inherent dishonesty in politics that has come to be the norm?

That’s a tough question to answer given the language in the Constitution regarding impeachment, but I’ll give it a try.

Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution says, “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Bribery is a pretty straightforward concept, but people have varying definitions of treason and the “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” part seems extremely vague. Perhaps Gerald Ford said it best when he stated that an impeachable offense is “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

So there it is, as clear as mud. I doubt any president has ever been in office for more than a few weeks before someone would consider something he did or said as an impeachable offense. But the reality is that it is a difficult and politically risky thing to do, so it’s not a card the Congress has played too often.

In fact only two presidents in our nation’s history (Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton) have been impeached by the House and both attempts failed to be approved by the Senate. And it’s probably a good thing it happens only rarely, otherwise it would come to be seen as a thing Congress might resort to (or at least threaten to do) any time a president gets on its bad side, and that would not be good for our government.

With all that said, we return to the matter at hand -- should President Obama be impeached for willfully lying to the country about the harmful effects of his health care plan?

One article I read while researching the matter said that constitutional lawyers have interpreted the “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” phrase to indicate breaking the law, abusing the power of office or violation of the public trust.

I think Obama clearly violated the public trust in regards to what he said about his health care plan, so I believe there is a good argument to be made that impeachment can be justified. But I also believe there is no chance whatsoever that the Democrat-controlled Senate would sign off on it, and I don’t believe it would be in the country’s best interest to take up the matter given that reality.

If the Republicans were to take a majority in the Senate in 2014 it might be worth considering again, although I’m not sure that President Joe Biden would be any kind of improvement over what we have now.

Bill Ferguson is a resident of Centerville. Readers can write him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com or visit his blog at nscsense.blogspot.com

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