Focus on President's Abuses, Not the Man

By Daily Editorials

February 25, 2014 3 min read

The "biggest problems that we're facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all." That was Barack Obama on the presidential campaign trail in 2008. Six years later, the sentence applies with equal force to his presidency.

These pages have been unsparing in their criticism of Obama's abuse of executive power — whether in the form of improper recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, the implementation via executive order of the DREAM Act (which Congress refused to pass) or the myriad delays and modifications to Obamacare applied unilaterally by the White House. We have continued to lodge these criticisms not out of any animus for the president but out of a reverence for our Constitution and the separation of powers it created.

Advocates for the rule of law are right to be disturbed by these developments, but wrong insofar as they entertain serious discussions of impeachment, a notion that has gained enough traction of late to have been floated by ostensibly serious figures like Texas Rep. Steve Stockman and the conservative publication The American Spectator.

Does the president's overreach meet the founders' definition of an impeachable offense? That's probably in the eye of the beholder. The Constitution is notably vague on the matter, only specifically citing bribery and treason as causes for removal and leaving all else under the vague umbrella of "high crimes and misdemeanors."

In reality, however, it doesn't matter. Impeachments don't actually turn on a close reading of the law; they turn on public sentiment. With every president in recent memory having also pushed the limits of his power, the public (rightly) doesn't regard Obama as a candidate for removal from office.

A better use of time for the presidents' critics would be attempting to corral his excesses. We applaud, for instance, efforts like the case — currently awaiting a verdict from the Supreme Court — on the constitutionality of Mr. Obama's recess appointments.

We're also sympathetic to initiatives like the resolution being circulated in the House of Representatives to sue the president for failing to live up to his constitutional duty to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." It's unlikely, however, that this effort will go anywhere in the courts, which have been historically hesitant to grant standing in such cases.

Still, the impulse at work there is the correct one. The focus should be on undoing the damage that Mr. Obama has done to the constitutional balance of power, not on destroying him personally. The president will be gone soon enough. If left unchecked, however, the harm he has done could be more enduring.


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