Washington • With a tight presidential election looming, House Republicans took the opportunity on Wednesday to slam President Barack Obama over what they argue are several instances of abuse of power by his administration.
Their star witness: Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee.
Lee, a lawyer by training, was called as a constitutional expert to rail against a litany of Obama’s actions, from what Lee considers illegal appointments to obstruction of oversight investigations and refusal to enforce immigration laws.
"As these examples demonstrate, when faced with opposition from Congress, President Obama has repeatedly sought to go it alone," Lee testified before the House Judiciary Committee. "It is, thus, all the more necessary and important that Congress continue to exercise its constitutional role and to check this president’s abuse of power wherever it sees that occurring."
Democrats in the Republican-controlled House objected to even the title of the hearing — "The Obama Administration’s Abuse of Power" — and argued that the GOP had already made their conclusions before the hearing began.
"Abuse of power is one [thing] that should not be taken lightly," Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said, noting that the accusation shouldn’t be used without factual and legal evidence.
Three of the four witnesses testifying at the hearing, though, disagreed, including Lee, a former Supreme Court law clerk who detailed several cases where he says the president has crossed the line.
Lee had protested against Obama’s use of a "recess appointments" power to overstep the Senate’s ability to confirm administration nominees, and Lee said the move offered a scary precedent if the president can decide when the Senate is or is not in session.
"You can destroy that power or at least seriously undermine it if you allow the president to conclude ... that the Senate is in recess just because the president doesn’t think it’s doing enough," Lee said, sprinkling his comments with references to the Federalist Papers and citing the Constitution’s specific articles and sections verbatim.
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Georgia, took a direct shot at Lee, saying he was being reckless just to join the hearing.
"I’m concerned about the precedent of just your appearance on an obviously political mission coordinated to besmirch this president," Johnson said, arguing it was an attempt to "talk to the extremist, tea party element of the electorate" and fire them up ahead of the hyper-partisan election season.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith defended the hearing, saying there was no question that Obama had expanded his own power under the Constitution.
"The administration has repeatedly, in my view, put its partisan agenda above the rule of law," Smith said, noting that it "hurts our country, disrespects the Constitution and undermines our democracy."
But Michael Gerhardt, professor of constitutional law and director of the Center on Law and Government at the University of North Carolina, said the questions comes down to whether a president has acted in good faith.
"I think it’s pretty obvious, there’s no abuse of power," Gerhardt said, noting that Obama was open, transparent and reasonable in his actions.
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