Share this article

print logo

Boehner ignoring the Constitution’s remedy for a president who oversteps Congress

And now for something completely different … House Republicans voted last week to sue President Obama for trying to delay portions of the Affordable Care Act that they fought hard to repeal.

The problem, as columnist E.J. Dionne smartly observed in Friday’s News, is “a breakdown among conservatives of the norms and habits that governing requires in a system of separated powers.” This issue required negotiation, not litigation.

Obama isn’t the first president to be despised by his opposition. Presidents Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush experienced versions of that divisive phenomenon. In each of those cases, though, opponents also found ways to work with the president. It’s what democracy requires in this country. And the country is supposed to trump politics.

But, under the influence of the tea party, congressional Republicans are so disdainful of Obama that they refuse, whenever they can, even to entertain the possibility of engagement on major issues. We have seen it over and over: in closing the government, in threatening the country’s credit rating, in taking at least 50 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Thus, instead of trying to work out whatever problems they have with this issue, House Republicans have decided to sue. And in that lies another puzzle. If Republicans truly believe that Obama has violated the law, then the constitutional recourse is not a lawsuit, but impeachment. And, indeed, many on the party’s fringe right, prominently including Sarah Palin, are calling for just that.

Republican leaders and mainstream party members know better. They know what happened when they impeached Clinton: They lost seats in the midterm elections of Clinton’s second term – an unheard-of outcome. Thus, Speaker John Boehner, caught between the tea party and the real world, is doing something silly: suing the president, hoping to soothe his howling right wing while avoiding the consequences of the relentless impeachment chatter.

The lawsuit is based on the claim that Obama is violating the Constitution by carrying out the threat he made in his State of the Union speech to use executive orders to enact his policies when Congress refused to act.

However, Republicans stood by without comment when Ronald Reagan issued more than 380 executive orders (to Obama’s 183) and George W. Bush ignored a provision of the Medicare law imposing penalties on seniors who didn’t sign up for drug coverage.

The effort to sue Obama came on a party line vote, which gives some indication of how seriously to take it. When Nixon was about to be impeached, the sentiment was bipartisan.

Specifically, the lawsuit claims the president is flouting the law and violating his oath by selectively applying the Affordable Care Act in an effort to delay aspects of the law that could be politically difficult. But have they tried to negotiate this with the president?


Have they had the nerve to formally say their complaints are impeachable and take the steps the Constitution lays out?


Instead, they are taking a weaselly route and, in doing so, opening a door that will be difficult to close. That is how Washington is. When once again there is a Republican president and Democrats control at least one chamber, watch for the retribution. It will happen.

This should be a political matter, pure and simple. If Republicans think Obama has overstepped his bounds, they should campaign on it and see if voters agree.

Unfortunately, Boehner has made it the wrong kind of political issue, voting to sue a sitting president in order to maintain what control he can over his splintered and angry caucus. This was a terrible decision, made by a weak leader playing a bad hand. There will be consequences, certainly to Republicans and likely to the country.