US Congress votes to sue Obama for overstepping powers

Republicans authorised move for Obama’s application of the Affordable Care Act

US Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner  all but accused Mr Obama of leaving the Constitution in tatters.  Photograph:  EPA

US Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner all but accused Mr Obama of leaving the Constitution in tatters. Photograph: EPA

Fri, Aug 1, 2014, 01:00

The House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to sue President Barack Obama for overstepping the powers of the presidency – a move that has angered conservatives who call it insufficient, emboldened Democrats who say Republicans are being vengeful, and further eroded much of what is left of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.

In a 225-201 party-line vote, Republicans authorised the House to move forward with a lawsuit against Mr Obama for his application of the Affordable Care Act, which they argue has been selective and intended to delay the law’s most undesirable aspects.

During a pointed, impassioned hourlong debate, Republicans accused the president of flouting the law and breaking a solemn constitutional oath. They summoned lessons from the American Revolution and the Bible. Speaker John Boehner all but accused Mr Obama of leaving the Constitution in tatters.

“No member of this body needs to be reminded about what the Constitution states about the president’s obligation to faithfully execute the laws of our nation,” Mr Boehner said. “Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change? Are you willing to let anyone tear apart what our founders have built?”

Democrats pointed to a litany of bills that Mr Boehner had kept from reaching the floor for a vote this year – legislation to raise the minimum wage, extend unemployment insurance and overhaul the immigration system – and accused Republicans of wasting time and money.

“A sorry spectacle of legislative malpractice,” said representative Louise Slaughter, (Democrat, New York). “The majority of the American people recognise this for what it is: political theatre.”

The lawsuit was Mr Boehner’s version of what might be termed impeachment-light – a way to send a signal that Republicans would fight the president’s efforts to revise laws Congress had passed while not going as far as many on the right would like.

But, as the speaker has found with other efforts to appease the right wing of his party, he was not well received. Sarah Palin responded by calling for Mr Obama’s impeachment, stirring up just the kind of intra-party fight that Mr Boehner had hoped to avoid.

Other prominent conservatives ridiculed the lawsuit. Erick Erickson, the blogger and pundit, also called it “political theatre” that wasted taxpayer dollars. Mark Levin, the popular radio host and former Reagan administration official, called it a “foolish move” that made him cringe.

On this point, Democrats agree. In a speech in Kansas City, Missouri, on Wednesday, Mr Obama’s mere mention of the lawsuit drew boos from the crowd. “Everybody recognises this is a political stunt,” he said. “But it’s worse than that, because every vote they’re taking like that means a vote they’re not taking to actually help you.”

Democrats have turned the lawsuit and rumblings of impeachment into a financial boon. The party claimed to have raised $1 million on Monday alone. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic congressional campaign committee, said: “When they decide to obsess on suing the president, they shouldn’t be surprised that our base is as energised as they’ve become.”

Recent polling shows that Republicans overwhelmingly favour impeaching the president. A Fox News poll released last week found that 56 per cent of Republicans believe that Mr Obama should be impeached. That compares with just 36 per cent of all registered voters.

Since the president threatened in his State of the Union address this year to use his executive powers to change policy when Congress would not act, Republicans have been increasingly vocal in criticising the president as imperial, particularly with regard to his signing of executive orders to implement new regulations on politically divisive issues like gun control and pollution.

Statistics show that as of last week, the Obama White House had issued 183 executive orders. George W Bush, by comparison, issued 291 in his eight years in office. Bill Clinton issued 364; Ronald Reagan 381. – (New York Times)