House Democrat Goes Off on Republican ‘Cuckoo Clocks’

“This has nothing to do with the law. This has to do with trying to manage some of the extremists, in your party — some of the cuckoo clocks who have been talking about impeachment.”

National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
July 24, 2014, 10:59 a.m.

A Mas­sachu­setts Demo­crat caused a flap Thursday at a House hear­ing when he said the real mo­tiv­a­tion be­hind Speak­er John Boehner’s planned law­suit against Pres­id­ent Obama was to ap­pease “cuckoo clocks” in the GOP who are call­ing for im­peach­ment.

“This has noth­ing to do with the law. This has to do with try­ing to man­age some of the ex­trem­ists, in your party — some of the cuckoo clocks who have been talk­ing about im­peach­ment,” said Rep. Jim McGov­ern, to Re­pub­lic­ans, dur­ing a Rules Com­mit­tee hear­ing on the planned leg­al ac­tion.

McGov­ern’s quip came on the heels of Sarah Pal­in’s call for Obama’s im­peach­ment earli­er this month in an op-ed. But the 2008 GOP vice pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee was not the first to do so. Over re­cent years, less­er-known GOP politi­cians, in­clud­ing some House and Sen­ate mem­bers, have oc­ca­sion­ally raised the idea of im­peach­ment — or sug­ges­ted that it should at least be con­sidered.

Pub­lished ac­counts show those in­clude Sens. Tom Coburn of Ok­lahoma, Tim Scott of South Car­o­lina, and James In­hofe of Ok­lahoma, and Reps. Blake Far­enthold of Texas, Jason Chaf­fetz of Utah, and former Reps. Tom Tan­credo of Col­or­ado and Al­len West of Flor­ida.

For his part, Boehner has re­buffed Pal­in’s call for im­peach­ment. But there has been spec­u­la­tion that his planned law­suit is an ef­fort to pla­cate such de­mands in a less polit­ic­ally com­bust­ible way — rather than be­ing a deeply felt, leg­al ef­fort to de­fend the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives from ex­ec­ut­ive over­reach.

Pre­dict­ably, McGov­ern’s “cuckoo” lan­guage at the hear­ing Thursday ruffled the feath­ers of com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­an sit­ting across the room — while also caus­ing some con­fu­sion. After all, “cuckoo clocks” is not a very pre­cise leg­al term — cer­tainly not on the level of “locus standi,” which Boehner and House Re­pub­lic­ans will have to prove they have for a court not to quickly throw out their planned law­suit over Obama’s use of ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions.

A McGov­ern aide ex­plained later that the law­maker, in fact, was re­fer­ring to “crazy” in us­ing the term “cuckoo clocks.”

And that was clear enough after McGov­ern said it to im­me­di­ately an­ger fel­low com­mit­tee mem­ber Mi­chael Bur­gess, R-Texas — who in the past has called for Obama’s im­peach­ment.

“This is be­low this in­sti­tu­tion,” Bur­gess said of the re­mark.

Com­mit­tee Chair­man Pete Ses­sions took charge, turn­ing to McGov­ern and say­ing, “What we’re try­ing to do is have a hear­ing where we keep and talk about the things which are rel­ev­ant to what [the pro­posed law­suit] is about.”

“I have not, and would not like to see this com­mit­tee, on my side, to refer to people who might be on your side as cuckoos. And I do not be­lieve that is ap­pro­pri­ate,” ad­ded Ses­sions. “Gen­tle­men, let’s keep it on the level.”

McGov­ern re­spon­ded, “I’ll think of a bet­ter word if I can think of one,” even­tu­ally go­ing on to re­ph­rase what he meant as “the ir­ra­tion­al­ity among some on your side with re­gard to their hatred of this pres­id­ent.”

He ad­ded, “This pres­id­ent was elec­ted pres­id­ent not just once, but twice. The Amer­ic­an people made that de­cision. And there seems to be a re­luct­ance to ac­cept that.”

After the ex­change, the com­mit­tee pro­ceeded to ap­prove along party lines the lan­guage for a res­ol­u­tion to be voted on next week au­thor­iz­ing the law­suit.

Asked after the hear­ing about the mat­ter, Bur­gess com­plained to a re­port­er, “You heard what he said!” Bur­gess said he had ob­jec­ted to McGov­ern’s “in­ap­pro­pri­ate” de­scrip­tion “of duly elec­ted mem­bers of a body to which he is also elec­ted.”

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