The biggest problem facing America, according to Republicans, is that it doesn’t have enough lawsuits. They’re about to fix that. On July 31, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution that will authorize Speaker John Boehner to sue President Barack Obama.
The suit, which was approved on a party-line vote (no Democrats voted for it), targets the President for not implementing “Obamacare” as written—particularly his decision to delay a mandate that employers provide health insurance. But it covers only a fraction of what some Republicans think he should be sued for; columnist George Will called for a suit over Obama’s “offences against the separation of powers” in “immigration, health care, welfare, education, drug policy and more.”
Democrats thundered that this was, in the words of New York Rep. Louise Slaughter, “a political stunt” to fire up Republican voters for the mid-term elections in November, and improve its chances of taking control of the Senate. But Democrats are complaining about a thing some of them have done themselves—with no success. In 2006, 11 House Democrats filed suit against President George W. Bush for implementing a budget bill they argued hadn’t been passed properly. It was tossed out of court when it was ruled that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to sue, and the same thing could happen to Boehner’s suit.
Why would Republicans file a lawsuit that probably won’t work, over Obama’s failure to obey the letter of a law that every Republican opposed? It might be that a lawsuit is the most palatable alternative to the dreaded i-word: impeachment. The Republican base has accepted its officials’ repeated claims that Obama is a “lawless” president who disrespects the Constitution. According to July polls from both Fox News and CNN, 57 per cent of Republicans want Congress to vote to impeach Obama, which would declare him in violation of the law and could get him removed from office. Sarah Palin has called for impeachment over Obama’s failure to secure the border against illegal immigration, while Florida Rep. Allen West called for impeachment for the release of “senior Taliban officials” from Guantánamo Bay. There’s something for everyone to impeach over.
This is a position that commands little support from independent voters, as Boehner and others of his party found out when they impeached Bill Clinton in 1998: there weren’t enough votes to remove Clinton from office, and most saw the process as a waste of time.
Democrats have been raising money for the upcoming mid-terms on the basis of fears that a Republican Senate takeover might lead to impeachment. This has led to Republican lawmakers denying that they have any such intention, no matter what their voters want: “We have no plans to impeach the President,” Boehner declared. “It’s all a scam started by Democrats at the White House.” With impeachment off the table, the lawsuit could work as a way of appeasing the base, demonstrating that Obama will not go unchallenged, while still avoiding the public-relations disasters of the Clinton years.
Who knows? They might get lucky with the lawsuit, because conservatives have been winning some anti-Obama cases lately. Thanks to the votes of two partisan Republican-appointed judges, an appeals court recently ruled against the Obama administration in Halbig v. Burwell, throwing out a chunk of the Affordable Care Act on the basis of one poorly worded sentence in the bill. If Boehner’s case ends up before sympathetic judges, it might turn out that he has standing after all. And if this is a political stunt, it would make it a very successful one indeed.