Who cares about the fuss over executive overreach? Republican base voters.

July 8, 2014

House Speaker John A. Boehner  (R-Ohio)(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Republican leaders are doubling down on their effort to attack President Obama for what they are framing as executive overreach, a move that comes four months ahead of the fall midterm election that is increasingly consuming the energy of both political parties.

While polling shows the public as a whole isn't all that fired up one way or another by the debate over executive overreach, the use of executive power is viewed most negatively by conservative Republicans -- exactly the kind of GOP base voters the party is looking to turn out this November.

The latest move to put the issue at the forefront of the political debate came Sunday when House Speaker John A. Bohener (R-Ohio) penned a CNN op-ed explaining why he plans to move legislation that declares President Obama’s executive moves an unconstitutional power play, something Obama has dismissed as a "stunt."

"Over the last five years, starting -- not coincidentally -- when his political party lost the majority in the House of Representatives, the President has consistently overstepped his authority under the Constitution, and in so doing eroded the power of the legislative branch," writes Boehner.

Democrats say Republicans are just playing politics.

"People are tired of this. They are tired of a Congress that would rather fight the president in order to turn out their base than work with the president to get things done," said Democratic National Committee spokesman Mo Elleithee Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."

Obama has made a number of executive moves during the past couple of years that have irked conservatives, like moving to curtail emissions and halting the deportations of some undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children.

It's important to note that not all of the actions Republicans oppose are executive orders. As Philip Bump recently noted on The Fix, the deportations rule was enacted via executive action, which is technically different.

The distinction matters because of the Democratic resistance. They note that the number of executive orders issued by Obama during his first five and a half years is hardly high. In fact, the man who preceded him used them more, as the following chart shows.

But Republicans can counter that it's not all about executive orders. It's about the totality of Obama's use of executive power.

Now to the question of what impact this will all have on 2014, regardless of whether Republicans are playing politics like Democrats claim or appropriately policing the president as GOP leaders say. Either way, the GOP's moves are bound to resonate with conservative voters who tend to be passionate about showing up in midterm elections.

A January Washington Post-ABC News poll that asked about executive orders showed a couple of interesting things:

-- One, the public as a whole was pretty divided over whether they like such moves. Fifty-two percent said they support presidents using executive orders to accomplish their goals and 46 percent said they opposed the maneuver.

-- Two, Republicans -- specifically conservative Republicans -- were far more opposed than Democrats. Given that the current president is a Democrat, that's no surprise. The following chart breaks it down:

As we have noted, executive orders are not synonymous with executive action. But the poll still provides a telling glimpse into the partisan divide that defines the debate. It's hard to imagine a poll about all executive actions looking extremely different, especially since the distinction is so esoteric.

Midterm elections, as we have written, are about which side can best turn out its base for elections that many people choose to sit out since the presidency is not at stake. For Republicans, talking about executive overreach is one way to try to get those voters to come out on Nov. 4.

That's why you're probably going to hear a lot more about it all from GOP leaders in the next four months.

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