By Jules Witcover
11:41 AM EDT, July 21, 2014
It's beginning to seem like the longest running off-Broadway show, the Republican effort to end the Obama presidency prematurely. The latest act was staged the other day before the House Rules Committee.
Members were considering House Speaker John Boehner's proposal that the House of Representatives sue Mr. Obama for failing to do his job in fully implementing the Affordable Care Act, which the Grand Old Party has been trying to kill off ever since Congress enacted it in 2010.
Their party having failed to make good on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's vow to make Barack Obama a one-term president, some Republicans have been beating the drums for impeachment, a step Mr. Boehner himself has denied is his intent in the threatened lawsuit.
But the Rules Committee hearing spent several hours debating whether what senators disdainfully call "the other body" has the legal standing to bring such a suit. One critic noted that the ACA, itself disdainfully called "Obamacare," was passed by the 111th Congress, now history, not the current 113th session, and hence was out of bounds.
Mr. Boehner's particular gripe is that the president, in unilaterally delaying full implementation of the health-care insurance law's mandate on employers to provide the coverage for their workers, is in effect rewriting the law — which is a legislative function, not an executive one.
The committee chairman, Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, said the "fear is that our nation is currently facing the exact threat that the Constitution is designed to avoid. Branches of government have always attempted to exert their influence on the other branches, but this president has gone too far." He called Obama's actions an "unwarranted ... shift of power in favor of the executive branch."
But the ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, dismissed the suit as a "political stunt ... clearly being made to appease members of the Republican Party who will not rest until President Obama is charged with articles of impeachment." She alleged that the whole business is "timed to peak in the House of Representatives in November as the midterm elections are happening," adding that "this incredible waste of time will also be a colossal waste of money."
The whole dispute arises from the House Republicans' concerted obstruction of much of Mr. Obama's legislative agenda, and his frustration-motivated reliance on the presidential power to issue executive orders on his own, which Mr. Boehner and others argue is a usurpation of their legislative power.
Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor with a knack for the public spotlight, testified in support of the Republican pitch. "It is always tempting when one person steps forward and says they can get the job done alone," he said. "That's the siren's call that our founders warned us to resist."
Simon Lazarus, a spokesman for the Constitutional Accountability Center, argued that "presidential judgment" putting laws into execution "is precisely what the Constitution requires." He said, "These claims fault the Obama administration for making necessary adjustments in timing" and other factors involved phasing in the employer mandate.
The White House, and Mr. Obama personally, have so far brushed off the challenge. The president at one point jokingly invited his critics to "sue me" for trying to get done what the House Republicans won't.
Meanwhile, Democratic fund-raisers have viewed the lawsuit and the impeachment talk as fodder for rallying supporters to the president's side. They suggest the whole business may possibly be to the administration's advantage in seeking to keep control of the Senate and to regain a majority in the House this fall.
The Republican political thrust of picturing Mr. Obama as a stymied and hemmed-in president seizing legislative powers to salvage what remains of his presidency is just the latest act in this long-running melodrama, of GOP determination to bring his White House tenure to a premature end, functionally if not officially.
Part of it is, obviously, the frustration of political foes who, despite their most earnest efforts to beat Mr. Obama at the ballot box and their just-say-no mantra in Congress, still must endure him for two and a half more years in the Oval Office.
Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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