The case for impeaching President Obama will be very strong if he does one thing: go really big on amnesty for the 11 million undocumented workers in America. There are nothing but upsides for Obama and the Democrats if this happens, leaving his Republican foes with only the constitutional response of impeachment, which is a legitimate response to what they would sure view as an illegal action.
Obama should announce his executive order on immigration around Labor Day. He should try to cover as many of the 11 million undocumented as possible. His executive order should including ending deportations for people who have not committed a crime; work permits for any person gainfully employed in this country; legalization for all persons working in agricultural (farmers will love that); and increased high skills visas (business will love that.)
Democrats have made it clear with the recent border crisis involving 57,000 unaccompanied children that they are not interested in border security. But we don’t have a secure border anyway; according to the Pew research Report, about 40 percent of the illegal aliens in America today are people who came here legally but overstayed their visas. And our immigrant population has change dramatically; most now come from Asia. Only 14 percent are from Mexico. The southern border is no longer the source of most illegal immigration.
America’s borders were open to immigrants willing to work hard as far back as the Civil War; Obama should make it clear if you are willing to work and live within the law, America welcomes you, as it always has. In other words, Mr. President, go big, don’t go wobbly.
If Obama acts broadly on immigration, the pressure from the Republican base for impeachment will simply be too great for its leaders to resist. Nor should they. House Speaker John Boehner’s response to Obama’s executive actions so far has been a silly lawsuit that has no chance of success. Boehner and his colleagues are suing Obama for among other things waiving part of the Affordable Care Act by presidential whim. This is the same Act they have voted numerous times to repeal; their suit is likely to be laughed out of court. One half of one house of Congress (the House Republicans) almost surely has no standing to bring a lawsuit. It is as good as dead.
So what should they do? Impeachment, not a lawsuit, is the correct constitutional response. Republicans are shy about impeachment because of the fiasco of impeaching President Bill Clinton for lying about sex in 1998. But that impeachment was driven by House Majority Leader Rep. Tom Delay of Texas, who was later arrested and convicted of election fraud and driven from Congress.
The real comparison should be the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in March 1868, in which he escaped removal from office by a single vote. There are amazing similarities between Johnson and Obama. Both were considered illegitimate presidents by their congressional foes. Tea Party Obama opponents claim he was not born in American, or is a Muslim, or a European socialist, or not raised with an “American experience” as Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) put it over the weekend.
Andrew Johnson was a Democratic Senator from Tennessee who alone among Southern Democrats opposed succession in 1861. At the risk of his own life he went back to Tennessee and resigned his Senate seat. President Abraham Lincoln greatly admired him and made him military governor of Tennessee, and in 1864 chose him to be his running mate. Lincoln did not seek re-election on the Republican ticket but as part of a Nation Union ticket with Johnson. At his second inaugural, just a month before he was assassinated, Lincoln called for “malice toward none; with charity for all” in returning the rebellious states into the Union.
Thus thanks to Lincoln the nation ended up with a Southern Democrat as president, who then made Lincoln’s generosity toward the defeated South his own policy. That earned him the undying enmity of the vindictive Radical Republicans in Congress, who wanted to punish the South and tried with little success to curb Johnson’s presidential powers. They finally resorted to impeachment in February 1868, for a litany of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which actually were mostly disagreements with Republicans in Congress. The primary “high crime” was Johnson ignoring the recently passed Tenure of Office Act by firing a cabinet official over Republican objections. For this he was impeached by the House of Representatives.
The Andrew Johnson precedent clearly illustrates that President Obama can legitimately be impeached for his disagreements with the House majority; high crimes are whatever the House says they are.
Johnson’s trial before the Senate took place in March 1868, and he escaped conviction and removal from office by a single vote. John F. Kennedy, in his book Profiles in Courage, cites Sen. Edmund Ross (R-Kansas) as the man who courageously stood against conviction and saved Johnson. Actually later scholarship suggests Ross may have been bribed and that supporters of Gen. Ulysses Grant, who succeeded Johnson in 1869, did not want to him removed from office.
But impeachment is the constitutional remedy and it did work. If President Obama moves with vigor on resolving the illegal immigrant crisis with broad amnesty, he should welcome an impeachment fight and a chance via trial in the Senate to justify his actions.
And the political gains for risking impeachment over reforming immigration for Obama and his party could be monumental. To see how one just needs to look at California. Twenty years ago, GOP Gov. Pete Wilson, fearing defeat, championed a ballot measure to deny illegal Latinos any state benefits. The backlash was quick and forceful. The Latino and later the Asian electorates, then a “sleeping giant”, were mobilized and their percentage of the California electorate has nearly quadrupled over the past two decades. And they vote solidly Democratic.
In 1994, Republicans had held the governorship for 12 years; they had won the state for president in nine of the past 11 elections. Today the state GOP is facing extinction; it statewide candidates have no money to campaign, and Gov. Jerry Brown looks poised for a huge landslide that will surely carry more Democrats into office. The surging Latino and Asian vote is not the entire reason for this transformation, but it played a big role in making the formerly two party California solidly one party.
The Latino demographic in this country is much greater than most analysts realize. Children of the illegal immigrants are American citizens and eligible to vote, and Latinos are moving rapidly into the middle class and transforming formerly Republican suburbs into Democratic ones (Southern California is a good example of this). Most importantly, they are moving from the southwest throughout the country as job opportunities open up.
A huge Latino turnout, as the immigration-impeachment battle will surely gin up, can help Democrats hold the Senate this year. Latino population rose by 27 million in the first decade of this century. That is a 9.7 percent growth rate but in crucial states for control of the Senate in 2014 such as Colorado it grew by 17 percent and in North Carolina by 19 percent. In Texas, Latino population grew by 2.8 million between 2000 and 2010; Latinos now account for 38 percent of the Texas population. Mobilize them as they have been in California and Texas becomes a battleground state in 2016 reducing Republican chances to regain the presidency nearly to zero.
Impeachment is not a risk for Obama because the Senate will never vote to remove him from office. It is an opportunity for a reform that not only brings 11 million people in out of the shadows, but lays the groundwork for a massive political change that can only benefit Obama and the Democrats.