WASHINGTON — The House opened proceedings Wednesday with a chaplain’s prayer that lawmakers be granted “a double portion of wisdom and understanding.”
Even a side order of wisdom with a garnish of understanding would have been nice. But neither was on the menu.
The people’s representatives were hurrying to depart Thursday for their five-week summer vacation, but first they had some important business to complete. Emergency legislation to ease the crisis at the border? Funding to keep highway repairs going?
Afraid not. House Republicans were instead taking up their not-quite-impeachment legislation: a bill that would authorize the House to sue President Obama for allegedly violating the Constitution, which, by definition, is an impeachable offense.
House Speaker John Boehner says he has no plans to pursue impeachment, but Republican leaders’ refusal to rule out the possibility has allowed the White House and Democrats in Congress to raise money by claiming the lawsuit is but a stalking horse for impeachment. The lawsuit idea was floated months ago as an alternative to the “impractical” notion of impeachment, for which several GOP backbenchers have clamored.
For procedural reasons, Republicans opted to bring the lawsuit bill to the floor paired in debate with a measure to deregulate pesticides. Linking the two under the same debate rules was fitting, Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., judged, because “one is as ridiculous as the other.”
Also, both would make the environment more toxic.
It’s a political loser to champion impeachment. So Republicans used other words Wednesday, such as treason, monarchy and usurpation.
“Our forefathers recognized that one man who can both make the law and enforce the law is not a president. He’s a king!” warned Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina. “Our freedom is in peril. We cannot stand by and watch the president shred our Constitution.”
Rep. Candice Miller of Michigan, too, said Obama should not “both impose and then enforce the law, because that type of action amounts to tyranny, Mr. Speaker.”
Tyranny! Are House Republicans preparing to sue the president, or execute him?
Although Republicans labored to avoid the I-word, Democrats wouldn’t let them forget it.
North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield: “Trying to set the stage for a despicable impeachment proceeding.”
Texas’ Sheila Jackson Lee: “Veiled attempt at impeachment.”
New York’s Hakeem Jeffries: “A down payment on impeachment.”
Kurt Schrader of Oregon: “Beating the drum of impeachment.”
Steve Cohen of Tennessee: “Impeachment-lite.”
“The only people I hear talking about impeachment in this chamber are the Democrats,” Rice complained.
Slaughter drew his attention to remarks by Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., in the Hill newspaper Wednesday: “Why not impeach instead of wasting $1 million to $2 million of the taxpayers’ money” on a lawsuit?
Jones joined a list of at least 10 Republican backbenchers and a handful of senators who have floated the notion of impeachment.
Boehner said Tuesday that there are “no plans” and “no future plans” to impeach Obama, calling the notion “a scam started by Democrats at the White House.” But he has yet to rule out the possibility.
“When I became speaker,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on the floor Wednesday, “and people clamored for the impeachment of the president, I said what I advise the speaker to say right now: Impeachment is off the table. … Why hasn’t the speaker said that?”
Probably because doing so would antagonize conservatives. That’s most likely why Boehner wouldn’t grant a vote on a Democratic substitute bill or an amendment explicitly ruling out impeachment. Instead, he gave a brief speech on the floor Wednesday saying nobody should be allowed to “tear apart what our founders have built.”
Pelosi didn’t tell the full story of her leadership: She allowed the House Judiciary Committee to hold an impeachment hearing on President George Bush in the summer of 2008, although it was called the “power to remove.” But the current effort is a whole other level of animosity — and it’s mutual. Obama, in Kansas City, Mo., mocked the lawsuit vote, saying “they’re mad because I’m doing my job.” He added: “Stop being mad all the time. Stop just hating all the time.”
Advice not taken. “These are the power-hungry actions of a president who refuses to work with Congress,” Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado said on the House floor. “The people’s representatives will not turn a blind eye to the lawlessness of this president.”
This drew an admonishment from the then-presiding officer. “Members will be reminded to refrain from improper references to the president,” he said.
Right. Sue him or impeach him — but refer to him properly.
Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist.