WASHINGTON – A sharply divided House approved a Republican plan Wednesday to launch a campaign-season lawsuit against President Barack Obama, accusing him of 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 proposed lawsuit underscored the harshly partisan tone that has dominated the current Congress almost from its start in January 2013.
The vote to sue Obama was 225-201. Five conservative Republicans voted with Democrats in opposing the lawsuit. No Democrats voted for it.
Federal lawmakers from Indiana split across political party lines. All seven Republicans from Indiana favored litigation against the president, while both Democrats opposed it.
Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th, said in a statement that if the President insists on ignoring the law, Congress has the duty to defend the Constitution and restore the balance of power.
Republicans said the legal action, focusing on Obama’s implementation of his prized health care overhaul, was designed to prevent a further presidential power grab and his deciding unilaterally how to enforce laws.
Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change? House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio asked.
However, Democrats said the lawsuit would go nowhere and was designed only to encourage conservatives to vote in this November’s congressional elections.
They also warned repeatedly 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.
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. Boehner has said he has no such plans and has called Democratic impeachment talk a scam to raise money.
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.
Republicans have 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 Sgt. 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.
Democrats say Obama has acted legally and has simply used the authority he has as chief executive.
Republicans have not laid out a timetable for actually filing a lawsuit. As for such a suit’s chances of legal success, federal courts are often reluctant to intervene in disputes between the executive and legislative branches.
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.
Congressional lawsuits against presidents are rare. In 2008, a federal judge backed a suit by Democrats who then controlled the House and were trying to force the Bush administration to honor House subpoenas of senior White House officials. Though the House won the first round in court, that decision was under appeal when a settlement was reached and the lawsuit was dropped.