March 24, 2019

House votes to sue Obama over claims of presidential power

House votes to sue Obama over claims of presidential powerHouse Republicans voted Wednesday evening to authorize an unprecedented lawsuit against President Obama, escalating a separation of powers battle between Congress and the White House that is heavily tinged with election-year politics.

The 225-201 vote broke almost entirely along party lines, underscoring just how strained tensions have become between the GOP, who said Mr. Obama is en route to becoming a tyrant, and Democrats, who accused Republicans of sinking to new lows in their efforts to repeal Obamacare and stop the president’s agenda.

“This isn’t about Republicans and Democrats, it’s about defending the Constitution that we swore an oath to uphold and acting decisively when it might be compromised,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, as he pleaded for Democrats to look beyond their party allegiance and defend Congress itself. “Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change?”

But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the chamber’s top Democrat, said she could see no reason for the Republican effort unless it’s a precursor for impeachment.

“Why would you sue somebody unless you want to prove something? And why would you go down that path unless you wanted to do something about it?” Mrs. Pelosi said. “Middle class families don’t have time for the Republican partisan grudge match with the president.”

Mr. Boehner a day earlier had said there were “no plans” to pursue impeachment, and said Democrats are the only ones talking about impeachment because it’s a successful fundraising tactic for them.

Mrs. Pelosi, though, said Mr. Boehner must officially rule impeachment “off the table” — a phrase she used when she squelched efforts by her fellow Democrats to impeach then-President George W. Bush.

Wednesday’s resolution authorizes House lawyers to bring a lawsuit challenging Mr. Obama’s decision to issue waivers of his own health law’s “employer mandate,” which was supposed to require large companies to provide insurance for their employees or else face fines.

Mr. Obama waived the fines for 2014, then later expanded his waiver to include 2015 and 2016.

Mr. Boehner said the House GOP supports waiving those fines, which is why it’s all the more strange that Mr. Obama acted alone, without coming to Congress to change the law. He said that situation is why the GOP chose to sue over Obamacare, rather than a host of other perceived overreaches ranging from environmental policy to immigration.

All Democrats who voted Wednesday opposed the lawsuit, as did five Republicans.

The GOP lawsuit’s chances for success are questionable.

Legal analysts said the biggest hurdle will be overcoming the federal courts’ rules requiring a plaintiff to show an actual harm before the judges will hear the case. Institutional harm to Congress’s constitutional powers has generally been rejected as a sufficient reason.

But some analysts said it’s still an open question for the Supreme Court — and they argue Mr. Obama’s overreach has been so dramatic that judges might be tempted to get involved in order to rebalance the two other branches of government.

Republicans couldn’t say how much the lawsuit would cost. Democrats said whatever the total, it was a waste and that Congress should be working on legislation to spur jobs.

“From his first day in office the Republicans in the House, in this House, have never supported this president. Every olive branch he extended was broken. But today they’ve reached a new low,” said Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat a civil rights icon.

Speaking in Kansas City hours before the vote, Mr. Obama said Republicans needed to “stop just hatin’ all the time” and instead back his agenda of raising the minimum wage, boosting spending on infrastructure and other steps he said would help the middle class.

“Come on and help out a little bit. Stop being mad all the time. Stop just hatin’ all the time,” the president told a raucous crowd. “Come on. Let’s get some work done together.”

Mr. Obama, who had some legislative successes in his first two years in office, backed by huge majorities in both the House and Senate, has grown increasingly frustrated since 2011, when the GOP took control of the House and began trying to roll back his policies.

With Democrats still controlling the Senate, that’s often led to gridlock on Capitol Hill — and Mr. Obama has enthusiastically claimed the right to take action on his own when Congress won’t.

President Barack Obama speaks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, July 29, 2014, as he announces new economic sanctions against key sectors of the Russian economy in the latest move to force Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his support for Ukrainian rebels. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Judges have taken a dim view of some of those actions. Last month a unanimous Supreme Court ruled he overstepped when he made recess appointments to four key positions at a time when the Senate was meeting every three days in pro forma sessions specifically to deny him his recess powers.

Mr. Obama had argued that in his judgment the Senate wasn’t really in session, but all nine justices rejected that, saying it’s up to Congress to decide those matters.

About the Author

Ben Wolfgang covers the White House for The Washington Times.

Before joining the Times in March 2011, Ben spent four years as a political reporter at the Republican-Herald in Pottsville, Pa.

He can be reached at