In Dramatic Pointless Gesture, Boehner to Sue Obama

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with the bipartisan, bicameral leadership of Congress to discuss the fiscal cliff and a balanced approach to the debt limit and deficit reduction, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Nov. 16, 2012. Participants included: House Speaker John Boehner at left, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Chief of Staff Jack Lew, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling.

Pretty much since the moment Barack Obama finished speaking the oath of office in January 2009, Republicans have been charging that he was abusing his power, exceeding his authority and acting like a tyrant. You might remember that for a time in those early days, conservatives (led by Glenn Beck) were obsessed with the idea that Obama had appointed a group of "czars" who were wielding unaccountable power to implement all sorts of nefarious schemes. They were unable to say how a "czar" differed from "a person who works in the White House," and that particular iteration of their outrage faded, but the underlying suspicion only grew. In the years since, the list of alleged usurpations of authority has grown daily, the charge that Obama is "lawless" becoming a constant.

At its root is the idea that Barack Obama's presidency is inherently illegitimate, and whatever he does in that office must be illegal, or nearly so. This often translates into complaints about process, so that even when they lose, Republicans charge that the game was rigged. For instance, conservatives have said thousands of times that the Affordable Care Act, despite being probably the most exhaustively debated piece of legislation in decades, was "rammed through" Congress before anybody realized what was happening. Actions that all presidents undertake, like making recess appointments, signing executive orders, or simply having agencies write regulations, become yet more evidence of Obama's horrific authoritarian rule.

It's safe to say that many if not most Republicans would be eager to impeach Obama were such a move not a guaranteed political disaster for them. So John Boehner has decided to pursue a kind of impeachment-lite, announcing that the House of Representatives will be suing the president for abusing his power. "The Constitution makes it clear that the president's job is to faithfully execute the law," he said. "In my view, the president has not faithfully executed the law." It's impossible to tell at this point whether the suit has any merit, because Boehner didn't actually cite any specific transgressions the suit will allege.

But my guess is that the suit will throw in every process complaint the Republicans have had over the last five years, because it's mostly about Boehner's right flank, both in Congress and in the Republican electorate. Even if the suit gets thrown out of court, Boehner will still be able to say to the eternally angry members to his right, "Hey, I'm the guy who sued Obama! I hate him as much as you do!"

It's irresistible to charge Republicans with hypocrisy, especially given the fact that they were unconcerned when the Bush administration pushed so vigorously at the limits of presidential power. Bush and his staff regularly ignored laws they preferred not to follow, often with the thinnest of justifications, whether it was claiming executive privilege to ignore congressional subpoenas or issuing 1,200 signing statements declaring the president's intention to disregard certain parts of duly passed laws. (They pushed the limits of vice presidential power, too—Dick Cheney famously argued that since the vice president is also president of the Senate, he was a member of both the executive and legislative branches, yet actually a member of neither and thus not subject to either's legal constraints. Seriously, he actually believed that.)

Needless to say, at the time Republicans were perfectly fine with these moves, because when the Bush administration was doing these things, it was in support of policies they favored. And that's how it goes: Process complaints are almost always a cover for substantive disagreement. A backroom deal made to pass a piece of legislation you agree with is just how the sausage gets made; a deal made for a piece of legislation you disagree with is evidence of deep corruption. A filibuster of a bill you oppose is a principled use of established procedures; a filibuster of a bill you favor is cynical obstructionism. And it's a little rich to hear congressional Republicans wail that Obama has subverted their will, when their will is that this president should be able to do absolutely nothing.

To be clear, I'm not saying that it's impossible that there could be any merit to whatever claims Boehner and his colleagues will make. There may have been situations in which Obama pushed presidential prerogatives beyond what the law and the Constitution allow, which the courts will decide. But this question comes up with every president, both because they all want to pursue their goals and try to find every means at their disposal to do so, and because the limits of that power are somewhat vague and complex. As it happens, in numeric terms, Obama has been far more restrained than his predecessor; he has issued fewer executive orders than other recent presidents, and has also used signing statements only occasionally (although recently he cited one of his signing statements as justification for failing to notify Congress 30 days before the release of Taliban prisoners in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl).

The numbers aren't really the point, though; the question is whether Obama actually ever exceeded his authority. This lawsuit may help us understand whether that occurred, and the result might set a useful precedent to guide future presidents. But I doubt it. More likely, it'll be an intensely partisan document whose purpose is to shake a fist at the president Republicans so despise, and it'll get tossed out of court and thrown in the dustbin where it belongs, one more futile, angry gesture from an opposition that has lost the ability to offer anything else.

Comments

There's another reason that the GOP continually refers to Pres. Obama as "lawless." To understand it, go read 2 Thessalonians 2:8. "Lawless" is used as a dog-whistle term to the religious right that equates Obama with the antichrist.

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Where are Senators like Senator Obama when we need them:

“The biggest problems that we’re facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all. And that’s what I intend to reverse when I’m president of the United States of America.”

Nothing like being behind the curve so badly that you look like the fool you, in fact, are. Waldman is writing about how the GOP and the nasty Republicans are labeling his demi-god as acting illegally -- and the Supreme Court comes out that day with a unanimous ruling that Obama acted illegally in making recess appointments. What is that now, 12 or 13 rulings against this Imperial President. If Bush was in the WH doing what Obama is doing, Waldman would be shouting outside the other side of his mouth. Not just dumb, a hypocrite, too!

Nothing like being behind the curve so badly that you look like the fool you, in fact, are. Waldman is writing about how the GOP and the nasty Republicans are labeling his demi-god as acting illegally -- and the Supreme Court comes out that day with a unanimous ruling that Obama acted illegally in making recess appointments. What is that now, 12 or 13 rulings against this Imperial President. If Bush was in the WH doing what Obama is doing, Waldman would be shouting outside the other side of his mouth. Not just dumb, a hypocrite, too!

This is a typically frustrating liberal piece.

One, let’s be clear what one of his main arguments is: Bush 43 did it, too, so it’s OK. I hear that a lot from libs, and I find it rather odd given how little they thought of Bush.

Two, love to play the race card to avoid real arguments. He writes, “At its root is the idea that Barack Obama's presidency is inherently illegitimate.” That’s weak. Sure there are some folks out there who still think Obama was born in Kenya, but get real folks. Most of us don’t like him because of his policies, not his birth or his race. Quite hiding behind a false strawman. As Obama has said, Politics ain’t beanbag. Quit hiding behind your mother’s skirt and face the criticism head on.

Three, he writes, “For instance, conservatives have said thousands of times that the Affordable Care Act, despite being probably the most exhaustively debated piece of legislation in decades, was "rammed through" Congress before anybody realized what was happening.”
- First, we conservatives didn’t make up the argument that it was rammed through before anybody “realized what was happening.” You may recall it was a liberal, Nancy Pelosi, who said we have to pass it so we can see what’s in it.
- Second, was it “rammed through”? Well, the Dems used a procedure – reconciliation - that, I bet, 99% of the electorate had never heard of. I know I hadn’t. Most of us – including Obama himself immediately after Brown’s win in Massachusetts – thought Obamacare was dead because the Senate’s filibuster rules required 60 votes. Something changed Obama’s mind, and the Dems used reconciliation to, in my mind, ram it through.

Four, libs love to defend Obama’s use of exec orders by pointing to Bush’s use – again, an odd defense in my mind for Bush-haters to make, but be that as it may. One problem with that argument: I’ve never heard a single lib tell give me one instance of Bush’s abuse of power. Cons can quickly point to the many instances in which Obama has unconstitutionally chosen not to enforce his own Obamacare or our immigration law (with respect to illegals brought here as minors) and others.

Five, libs loved to criticize Bush’s “shredding” of the Constitution, but they ignore the simple fact that he was involved in a new kind of war that posed genuine novel Constitutional issues. Where we cons criticize Obama, we’re talking about plain vanilla stuff like recess appointments and enforcing clearly written laws.

"Actions that all presidents undertake, like making recess appointments ... simply having agencies write regulations, become yet more evidence of Obama's horrific authoritarian rule."

Yeah, but, as of today, Obama is the first American President the Supreme Court has found to have abused the power of recess appointments. And as of yesterday, Obama's EPA was told that it wasn't all-powerful either.

And the point of suing Obama is to make it clear that he's not King and that, even though he's being protected from impeachment by Harry Reid, he's still not beyond the law.

Justice Breyer noted that Scalia's minority opinion would have invalidated over 2000 recess appointments in recent history is it were the majority. Tens of thousands of administrative actions which still apply today would be called into question.

But the thing that Boehner gave originally when announcing his intentions was the executive action to implement the Clean Air Act that the Supreme Court ruled must be executed when the States sued the Bush administration. And this week, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA must regulate air pollution, which what upsets Boehner and conservatives, and in doing so can cap carbon, again, executive action that Boehner opposes enough to call overreach.

So, do you call following the ruling of the Supreme Court in a decision against the Bush administration the act of a King?

Mr Waldman: A unanimous Supreme Court just struck down Obama's recess appointments; even his own appointees voted against him! Hobby Lobby is ripe for a decision, too - that'll undo the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare if it goes against him. Then you have the extensions & waivers on the ACA when the law has date certain & the word "shall" - not "at the discretion of" HHS or the president. Also the re-write of bankruptcy law to give the unions an ownership interest in GM. NSA, drone strikes, Libyan invasion, Gitmo prisoner swap, illegal aliens vs. established immigration law; the list keeps growing. Short of an impeachment, what would you have somebody do? You may want to re-think your position; exceeding constitutional authority is lawless.

9 zip. Think about it. 4 lemmings even voted against this Constitutional law professor Yuk YUk YUk.

Sir--Considering your stature, I rise to protest with extreme temerity and caution. I think you are being more wishful than logical in castigating the Speaker. On the contrary, it is a very good strategy. When Congress speaks to the President, it is necessarily as a co-equal under the Constitution and as an inferior in the eyes of the administration. But when a court speaks, judges can send lowly administration personnel to jail for disrespect. Consider Citizens United and all that have followed, even today. You sir, only hope, that the Speaker does not go to court. Palmer Hinsdale

I support any action that neutralizes the malevolent psychopath in the White House, legal or quasi-legal. Turnabout is fair play. Obama stoops to any degree of evil to promote international totalitarian socialism, ther fore it is incumbent on the forces of human freedom to match and exceed his every evil move.

Just this week George Will in the Sunday edition of the papers that carry him, wrote that two law professors had devised the plan that Boehner is following. There may be more "juice" to this then this article is implying.

Hmm, The Prospect's filter seems to have let through only all the right-wingnuts in this article's comment section. I can understand why any progressives have decided not to bother; it's like talking to a table to engage in discourse with the right.

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