By Jay Bookman, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
In an interview on Fox News over the weekend, incoming House Majority Whip Steven Scalise of Lousiana was asked repeatedly by Chris Wallace about the prospect of impeaching President Barack Obama. The exchange was illuminating, both for the lack of illumination that Scalise was willing to offer, and for his sheer mendacity.
After Wallace pressed him on the impeachment issue, here’s how Scalise responded:
SCALISE: You know, this might be the first White House in history that’s trying to start the narrative of impeaching their own president. Ultimately, what we want to do is see the president follow his own laws. But the president took an oath to faithfully execute the laws of this land and he’s not. In fact, the Supreme Court unanimously more than 12 times, unanimously said the president overreached and actually did things he doesn’t have the legal authority to do.
WALLACE: Again, on executive action to defer more deportations, what will the House do?
SCALISE: We’ve made it clear. We’re going to put options on the table to allow — to allow the House to take legal action against the president when he overreaches his authority. Others have already done that. Cases are going to the Supreme Court. Like I said, more than a dozen times the Supreme Court unanimously — I’m not talking about a 5-4 decision — 9-0, unanimously said the president overreached.
So, we’re going to continue to be a check and a balance against this administration.
WALLACE: But impeachment is off the table?
SCALISE: Well, the White House wants to talk about impeachment, and, ironically, they’re going out and trying to fundraise off that, too.
WALLACE: I’m asking you, sir.
SCALISE: Look, the White House will do anything they can to change the topic away from the president’s failed agenda — people paying higher costs for food, for health care, for gas at the pump. The president isn’t solving those problems. So, he wants to try to change the subject.
Some points to consider:
1) By my count, Wallace asked the impeachment question four times. Scalise evaded it four times. Yes, politicians evade questions all the time. Yes, Democrats are attempting to fundraise off the impeachment possibility. But Scalise could have pulled the rug from beneath that effort with a simple statement that the House would not consider impeachment. Despite repeated opportunities, he did not. He pointedly left the option on the table and tried to change the subject, ironically by accusing the president of trying to change the subject.
2) Scalise claimed that instead of impeachment, the topic should be what he called “the president’s failed agenda — people paying higher costs for food, for health care, for gas at the pump.” OK, let’s take a look at those issues.
—People are not paying higher costs for food, with a few notable exceptions such as pork and fresh produce. Those costs spikes are temporary, driven by widespread drought perhaps associated with climate change, as well as by a virus that killed millions of piglets last year. I’m not sure how Obama might have intervened with those problems. Maybe he should have issued an executive order banning piglet-killing viruses, but then again, the House would have added it to the list of impeachable offenses.
—Gasoline prices are dropping, not rising, falling nine cents a gallon in the last two weeks. They have recently been 9.5 cents below what they were a year ago. If the president is to be blamed when prices increase, I suppose Scalise is willing to give him credit when they fall. Or maybe not.
—Contrary to Scalise’s claims, health care inflation also remains at near-record-low levels.
3) In an effort to document the conservative narrative that Obama has become some sort of tyrant run amok, Scalise twice repeated the claim that “more than a dozen times the Supreme Court unanimously — I’m not talking about a 5-4 decision — 9-0, unanimously said the president overreached.”
That too is a complete fabrication, and Scalise knows it.
As Politifact documented a month ago, eight of the 13 Supreme Court cases referenced by Scalise were initiated by actions taken in the administration of President George W. Bush and were inherited under Obama. Factcheck.org also studied the claim; it too rejected it as false.
In addition, most of the 13 cases had nothing to do with presidential overreach. “For example, in United States v. Jones, the court was ruling on whether the FBI had the power to use a GPS to track a suspect and gather evidence,” Politifact points out. A second case involved a court ruling that “police could not search your cell phone without a warrant if you were arrested.” A third case involved a state law in Massachusetts that regulated protests outside abortion clinics. A fourth case — begun under Bush — involved tax law on overseas income. A fifth — also a Bush case — involved the statute of limitations in securities law.
In other words, the core piece of evidence behind the GOP’s narrative of executive overreach by Obama — evidence cited by Ted Cruz, by National Review, by the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and now by Scalise — is fraudulent. But those spreading it do not care. They have fed the base this “Obama-is-an unconstitutional-tyrant” line to keep it riled up, fearful and distracted, and it has worked. That is all they care about.
And if by creating this image of Obama as tyrannical threat to constitutional government, they create a groundswell for impeachment that they cannot control? Like little boys playing with fire, they don’t seem worried by that either.
Jay Bookman writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr
Want more political news and analysis? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!