Some additional observations going forward on the Cantor debacle: I never found Cantor to be a very compelling political personality. I thought his speeches were too superficial and cliché (even if they were the right clichés), and his delivery flat. It left me with the impression that the ratio of personal ambition to substance was out of whack. But there’s more to being House majority leader than being a scintillating public speaker. We should not denigrate the “back room” aspects of legislative politics just because it involves messy compromises and trimming. No one typically gets good marks for this from ideological purists. I’m inclined to think Cantor was fairly good at much of this thankless and unglamorous work.
I’ll leave it to others to dilate whether Cantor ignored his district and was trying to be too clever on immigration, and how the musical chairs of the GOP House leadership may soon be rearranged. But one fallout is undeniable. (Or as I put it on Twitter: “What’s the difference between Elvis and immigration reform in Congress? Immigration reform is definitely dead.”) I think there’s some room for reasonable changes in our immigration practices—I rather like the idea of an auction system, favoring people who would bring valuable assets or skills to the country—but the time is not now. The Democrats are operating from bad faith, looking only to sign up more Democratic voters, and Republicans have been operating from massive confusion married to bad motives.
Let’s look down the road a bit from here. We know that President Obama is enamored of executive power. He said on climate change that he wouldn’t wait on Congress, and we saw last week his bold use of the Clean Air Act to impose a regulatory scheme that Congress would never pass. He’s said much the same thing about immigration. So what might he do?
How about this: after the election next fall, especially if the GOP takes the Senate and with an eye to the 2016 election prospects for Democrats, Obama might well decide to use his pardon power to grant a blanket pardon to all illegal aliens presently in the United States. This would not, strictly speaking, be a legal abuse; the president’s pardon power is unconditional in the Constitution. But you can imagine the firestorm it would generate.
What would be the remedy? Impeachment. No one really has the stomach for a repeat of the Clinton impeachment debacle, but I wonder if Obama wouldn’t welcome such a confrontation. It would get the Left riled up for 2016. I think the odds of a blanket amnesty-by-pardon are much better than people think. Some enterprising reporter ought to ask about this at a White House press conference some time soon.
Republicans may have painted themselves into a box on this, going all the way back to Watergate, in arguing that a criminal infraction is the only grounds for impeachment, as was the case with the Clinton impeachment. I think the otherwise splendid Ben Shapiro makes this mistake with his argument that Obama should be prosecuted under RICO rather than impeached. I’ve not yet had time to read Andrew McCarthy’s new book, Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment, but from what I can gather from his short pieces and interviews, he’s on more solid ground in understanding that impeachment, rightly understood, is a means for political judgment—it’s our form of a “no confidence” vote that is central to parliamentary governments. As Hamilton put it in his discussion of impeachment in The Federalist (number 65):
The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties, more or less friendly or inimical, to the accused. . .
What it may be asked is the true spirit of the institution itself? Is it not designed as a method of NATIONAL INQUEST into the conduct of public men?
The point is, it would be entirely proper to bring an impeachment against President Obama even for the entirely constitutional use of his pardon power if the people judged that his act resulted in “injuries done immediately to society itself.” (By the way, can’t the GOP have the wit to argue to unskilled laborers that more immigration puts downward pressure on their pay prospects? Why does only Mickey Kaus seem to notice this opening?) McCarthy rightly notes that the decisive fact for bringing a successful impeachment is public opinion. So that shaping of public opinion should begin now.
Therefore, a modest suggestion: every GOP candidate—especially for the Senate—should force Democratic candidates on the record before the campaign on the question of how they would respond if President Obama uses his pardon power to grant amnesty to every illegal alien currently in the country. Get them on record now, ahead of the election.
So strap in everybody. It’s going to be a rough year ahead.