Summer Only Heated Up Anti-Obama Sentiment

     WASHINGTON (CN) – After a five-week vacation, House Republicans resumed airing their various grievances against the Obama administration at a hearing Thursday.
     Topics up for target practice included the president’s immigration amnesty program, recession appointments, health care reform and the botched Fast and Furious program, all of which Republicans cited as an abusive of executive power.
     Democrats shrugged off the fervor with which Republicans spoke, dismissing the hearing as political posturing during the home stretch of the electoral season.
     “We essentially have six legislative days before we go into long recess, and yet we are wasting time talking about the administration’s alleged abuse of power when we could be discussing other pressing issues,” Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., said. “And in fact many issues we’ve discussed thus far have already been discussed in previous hearings throughout the year. As I see it, this hearing has nothing to do with the abuse of power; it’s simply a hearing rehashing political disagreements.”
     The tone of the hearing matched its title, “The Obama Administration’s Abuse of Power” – a sentiment that did not go unnoticed by House Democrats.
     “Mr. Chairman, we’ve had a respectful relationship with the way you’ve chaired this committee, but I must observe that the title for today’s hearing is unnecessarily open-ended and provocative,” said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who moved to strike the title from the record.
     His motion was ignored as the Republicans came out swinging.
     “This committee has held hearings on many of the ways in which the Obama administration has abused its power, ignored its duties, evaded responsibility and overstepped the Constitution’s limits on the president,” Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said. “Today’s hearing will look at the pattern of ignoring constitutional limits created by all of these abuses.”
     The committee heard testimony from four witnesses, including Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who echoed concern that Obama circumvented Congress by ordering amnesty for certain illegal immigrants using guidelines derived from the Dream Act, which died in the Senate. Lee also said that provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act chills the rights of free speech and religious association by forcing Catholic institutions to dole out contraception medications.
     Conyers and fellow Democrat Bobby Scott both spoke of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, citing an executive order made by President Lyndon Johnson barring segregated hospitals from taking Medicare funds.
     Scott, a representative from Virginia, asked Lori Windham, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and witness at the hearing, whether President Johnson had exceeded his executive authority.
     Windham, a Harvard Law graduate, testified that the Obama administration “has stubbornly refused to create an exception that would protect thousands of religious organizations and individuals who cannot follow both the [Affordable Care Act] mandate and their faith.”
     “I’m not familiar with what law was being discussed there or what was relied upon,” Windham said in answer to Scott.
     Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., also cited previous administrations.
     “It seems to me that while this is an important, academic hearing which deserves some review, there’s precedent for virtually everything all over the board,” Watt said. “If there has been an abuse of power, it seems to me it’s been a bipartisan abuse of power by presidents throughout the history of the country. If this president has abused it, then other presidents have abused it in a number of respects.
     Just as Democrats shrugged off the multitude of claims made against the administration, Republican’s shrugged off other issues raised by Democrats throughout the hearing.
     In his rebuttal to Chairman Smith’s opening statement, Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the committee, cited the problems associated with discriminatory voter-identification laws, immigration reform, the country’s troubling incarceration rates, and a rise in gun violence and weapons trafficking. Conyers called on committee members to “put aside the partisan rhetoric” and work to resolve such issues.
     Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., pulled away from questioning the witnesses for a few minutes to debate Conyers on voter fraud, which he called “the greatest threat to our democracy.”
     University of North Carolina constitutional law professor Michael Gerhardt and Baker Hostetler partner Lee Casey also testified. Gerhardt was the only witness who did not believe that the president has abused his power.
     Watt, the Democratic congressman from North Carolina, also discussed recess appointments and the war operation in Libya last year.
     Republicans say Obama improperly circumvented the Senate’s ability to confirm appointments by submitting candidates for administrative offices during an informal Senate session, and members of Congress filed a bipartisan lawsuit over the Libyan assault.
     But Watt said such issues have plagued all presidents, Republican and Democrat.
     “I’m troubled more by people applying one standard to this president and a different standard when a Republican president is in power,” Watt said. “I hope that we kick out the stool from under this hearing that is labeled partisanship, and at least try to apply the same standard, whether we’re talking about abuse of power by a Democratic president or abuse of power by a Republican president. Because from my view either all of them have been on the edge or over the edge.”
     Several representatives from both parties arrived late to the hearing or left early, citing the hectic schedule of committee mark-ups and hearings sandwiched between summer vacation and the coming extended recess.

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