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by Jules Witcover
Greater than the risk of being accused of criminality in the three scandals now gripping the Obama administration is the peril that the president's substantive agenda is being hopelessly knocked off track.
The liberal Illinois senator who entered the
In his first term, congressional Republicans embraced partisanship straightaway, particularly in the House after they gained a majority there, openly declaring their intent to block his every initiative. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's goal to make Obama a one-term president became the Republicans' battle cry.
That strategy of legislative obstruction clearly worked in denying Obama much domestic achievement beyond enacting his major health-care reform law. But even that bitter fight consumed so much time and energy that little else of historic significance was accomplished. In the end, though,
Now, with his second term barely underway, the barrier to an impressive Obama legacy is not so much congressional obstruction as it is congressional investigation. Opposition lawmakers have seized on perceived evidence of administration deception or just dissembling in the
Congressional investigations often determine responsibility for wrongdoing and lead to corrective action, not simply in catching an officeholder with his hand in the cookie jar but also in producing a legislative remedy. A prime exhibit was the Senate Watergate hearings of the early 1970s, which ensnared a lying Richard Nixon and collaborators in the cover-up of the infamous break-in of the
At the same time, such investigations can be exploited for partisan objectives in the hands of lawmakers so inclined. For one thing, the device of televised congressional hearings can easily become magnets for self-serving or partisan showboating by legislators converted by the proceedings into prosecutors. Questions routinely are asked not only to elicit information but also to score political points, their purpose easily ascertainable by the party label of the interrogators.
Past congressional investigations going back to the anticommunist witch hunts of the McCarthy era have demonstrated that the power of
In that earlier period of legislative warfare against the executive, McCarthy repeatedly equated "taking the Fifth" with an act of disloyalty or an admission of guilt, labeling users of the protection "Fifth Amendment communists." That specter resurfaced this week when former
Her right to claim the protection was challenged on grounds that she had already opened the door to committee interrogation by offering a statement denying any wrongdoing. She left the hearing room facing the prospect of being called back.
The chairman of the House committee involved, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, has already earned a reputation as a politically motivated congressional sleuth comparable to Joe McCarthy himself, an appraisal sometimes meant as a compliment and sometimes as a condemnation.
Boxing Obama In | Politics