Why suing Obama could become a bigger GOP headache than impeachment talk

Speaking in Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday, President Obama accused Republicans in Congress of blocking action on student loans, fair pay for women and the minimum wage. "That's when we act," the president said, "When Congress won't." (WhiteHouse.gov)

Here's the big difference between impeaching President Obama and suing him: The former is a pipe dream being pushed by far-right conservatives, while the latter has the full support of the Republican establishment.

This is precisely why a lawsuit could become a bigger headache for Republicans than the "i" word. Both ideas are unpopular. But only one is moving forward in Congress.

Right now, every time you say "impeachment," a Republican leader writhes in pain somewhere. Seriously. Try it. It's the last thing in the world they want to talk about.

They'd much rather focus on plans moving forward in the House to sue Obama over using executive power to alter the federal health-care law. It's a much better way of channeling conservative anger with the president on the eve of the midterm elections without the intense backlash that taking steps toward impeachment would bring, in their view.

Except that it may not be as good a bet as they may have initially thought.

A CNN/ORC International poll released last week showed that 57 percent of Americans don't feel Republicans should file a lawsuit. Just 41 percent think they should.

The bigger problem for Republicans is that the idea of a lawsuit is producing more intense Democratic resistance than Republican praise. Eighty-four percent of Democrats are against the idea, while 75 percent of Republicans are for it. Independents tilt against a lawsuit 55 percent to 43 percent.

The GOP's march toward a lawsuit — the House voted to clear the way for one Wednesday and faces a murky legal future even if it passes — has also helped fill Democratic campaign coffers. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has raised at least $7.6 million online since Republicans announced their intent to sue the president about a month ago. That's a lot of cash.

Obama clearly wants to make the lawsuit a focal point. Here's what he said about it today: “Everyone sees this as a political stunt, but it’s worse than that because every vote they’re taking ... means a vote they're not taking to help people.”

Back to impeachment for a moment. It's even more unpopular than a lawsuit. That's why Democrats are trying to portray it as a real possibility. The idea angers their base. And anger = voting and donating money.

It's also why most Republicans are trying to distance themselves from the far-right members of their party who are pushing it. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden (Ore.) told reporters Tuesday that "impeachment is not on the table."

He's right. It's not. But the lawsuit idea he and other Republicans are embracing is on the table. Republicans own that. Both politically and legislatively.

In the fall campaign, it will be much easier for Democrats to tether Republican candidates in key races to the push for a lawsuit than it will to tie them to impeachment calls. That's why it could be a bigger problem.

Sure, midterms are about base enthusiasm. And Republican leaders probably looked at a lawsuit as a way to fire up their base, which loathes Obama.

But here's some second-guessing food for thought. Why do it? Polls had already shown that the Republican base was more enthusiastic about voting in the fall than Democrats.

Democrats have desperately been searching for ways to get their voters to go to the polls this fall. Republicans may have just inadvertently handed them a big one.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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