Speaker of the House John Boehner of Ohio, arrives for a meeting of the Republican Conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday.
WASHINGTON — Republicans pushed a divided House Wednesday toward a campaign-season lawsuit against President Barack Obama, accusing him of deliberately exceeding the bounds of his constitutional authority. Obama and other Democrats derided the effort as a stunt aimed at tossing political red meat to conservative voters.
Just a day before lawmakers were to begin a five-week summer recess, debate over the lawsuit underscored the harshly partisan tone that has dominated the current Congress almost from its start in January 2013.
Republicans said the legal action, focusing on Obama’s implementation of his health care overhaul, was designed to prevent a further presidential power grab and his deciding unilaterally how to enforce laws. They scoffed at Democratic claims that it would be a waste of taxpayers’ money.
“What price do you place on the continuation of our system of checks and balances? What price do you put on the Constitution of the United States?” said Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich. “My answer to each is ‘priceless.”’
Republicans have repeatedly accused Obama of exceeding his powers in a range of areas, saying he has enforced provisions he likes and ignored others.
These include not notifying Congress before releasing five Taliban members from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for captive Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, blocking the deportation of some children who are in the U.S. illegally and waiving some provisions of the No Child Left Behind education law.
However, Democrats said the lawsuit was simply designed to encourage conservatives to vote in this November’s congressional elections. They also warned that it could be a precursor of a more drastic GOP effort. Said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.: “The lawsuit is a drumbeat pushing members of the Republican Party to impeachment.”
In fact, Democrats already are using that argument to mine campaign contributions. About two hours before the House was to vote, House Democrats emailed a fundraising solicitation to supporters saying, “Republicans have said this lawsuit has ‘opened the door’ to impeachment.” It asked for support for Democrats who “will finally put a stop to the Tea Party crazies and get President Obama’s back.”
Some prominent conservatives including former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin have called for Obama’s impeachment, and some House GOP lawmakers have not ruled it out. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he has no such plans and has called Democratic impeachment talk a “scam” to raise money.
“Impeachment is off the table. Why hasn’t the speaker said that,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
On the road in Kansas City, Missouri, Obama cast the lawsuit as a “political stunt” and a distraction from the public’s priorities.
“Every vote they’re taking like that means a vote they’re not taking to actually help you,” he told his audience. He urged Republicans to “stop just hating all the time.”
As for the lawsuit’s chances of legal success, federal courts are often reluctant to intervene in disputes between the executive and legislative branches. For the suit to survive, the GOP would first have to prove that the House had been injured by Obama’s actions. And even if the lawsuit was heard, it is unclear whether it could be decided while Obama was still in office.
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