March 5, 2014



Rep. Steve King loves a good argument and he doesn't argue in order to lose.

The premises of the Kiron Republican's arguments may be flawed, but they usually follow a logical progression.

So when he makes the case that President Obama is flouting the nation's laws and leaving Congress and the courts with little or no recourse, King is building up to a point.

"Well, what you're describing would be tyranny if it went that far. And we do have - then we would have issues of removal," George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley responded to King during a Judiciary Committee hearing last week.

That means impeachment, although King won't yet use what he calls "the I word."

But it is the logical conclusion of King's argument.

Perhaps he's awaiting more allies who are ready to engage in a constitutional throw-down with the president. Perhaps he won't use "the I word" until after the midterm elections in November.

But that's where King is heading.

The nation's system of governance is entirely broken, King said, and it's Obama's fault. Congress does not dare to pass bills until the current president is gone, King said.

That won't be for nearly three long years.

King let that idea hang out there: The government will accomplish nothing for the next three years, if Obama remains in office.

Other congressional Republicans don't think the choice is between tyranny or removal of the elected president.

The Judiciary Committee hearing last week examined a handful of legislative options for confronting what many Republicans see as presidential freelancing on implementing the law.

Two of the options would allow the Republican-controlled House to challenge Obama in court, giving lawmakers legal "standing," as it is known, to take on the president. Others would eliminate positions or require formal explanations of the Obama administration's activities.

"I do think that you have avenues which you can pursue," GWU's Turley told King. "I compliment those that are focusing on standing. ... I don't believe that the book is closed on member standing. And I don't agree that it is so clear that members do not have standing, having litigated this issue for members I think there is room that can be expanded upon. That's the reason I think these are good ideas.

The Republican leadership of the House Judiciary Committee hasn't given up hope either, and isn't succumbing to impeachment fever.

"President Obama has not fulfilled his constitutional duty to faithfully execute our laws," a Judiciary Committee aide told Potomac Watch. "One problem legal scholars from across the political spectrum agree on is that too many legal barriers exist today that prevent federal courts from settling disputes between Congress and the president."

The aide said: "The House Judiciary Committee is examining the four proposals discussed at (last week's) hearing and in addition is also considering introducing its own legislation. The Committee plans to act expeditiously on this issue."

That will, however, be a partisan effort.

"To begin with," House Judiciary ranking member John Conyers, D-Mich., said at the hearing, "Let's acknowledge that today's hearing is really about - what it's really about: yet another attempt by the majority to prevent the president's implementation of duly enacted legislative initiatives that they oppose, such as the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank protection act."

Conyers has a point: This fight is much more about implementing laws that Republicans don't like than it is about constitutional roles and responsibilities. After all, the House Republican majority didn't take much interest in congressional Democrats' disputes with former President George W. Bush over the Constitution.

King is dismissive of his own Republican colleagues' efforts to confront the president.

The president can always get around congressional moves to defund his programs, King argued at the hearing. As for House members gaining "standing" to challenge Obama in court, King said it doesn't matter because the president will show as much contempt for the judicial branch as he does for the legislature.

At least one of the legal scholars who appeared at the Judiciary hearing challenged King's logic as over-the-top, but King wasn't much interested in her view.

"And so it should be obvious to all of us by now that there is unlikely any law that we could possibly pass here in Congress that's going to compel the president to enforce it unless it's to his political interest to do so," King said.

So what's a despairing member of Congress to do?

"I know we're linear thinkers here, but we need to leap to what's our recourse if the legislative and the judicial branch of government are disrespected to an equal level and the president's wrapped completely in the cloak of 'I am president therefore I can do what I want,'" King said.

Without using that dangerous "I word," King acknowledged that impeachment isn't going anywhere as long as Democrats control the Senate.

But after November, who knows?

Maybe King will have enough allies in Congress who also want to shout out the word that's clearly on the tip of his tongue. If so, King's agenda for the last two years of the Obama presidency seems pretty clear.