Why Bobby Jindal needed to sue the Obama administration


Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks with delegates during the Iowa State Republican Convention on June 14 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) just sued the Obama administration. He had to.

Jindal, a potential 2016 presidential candidate who is headed to Iowa next month, filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Education over Common Core, the education standards that have become a lightning rod for criticism and charges of government overreach among conservative activists.

As an early champion of Common Core, Jindal could face criticism in the Republican primary. What better way to blunt the backlash in advance than to become a sworn enemy of the program?

Jindal charged the Department of Education violated the Tenth Amendment by pressuring states to adopt Common Core, a set of math and English standards and tests most states have adopted in their educational systems. 

"Common Core is the latest effort by big government disciples to strip away state rights and put Washington, D.C. in control of everything. What started out as an innovative idea to create a set of base-line standards that could be ‘voluntarily’ used by the states has turned into a scheme by the federal government to nationalize curriculum," he said in a statement.

Jindal's lawsuit the latest in a string of moves against Common Core. In June, he issued an executive order instructing state officials to implement a new educational standard.

Here's the potential payoff: Imagine an opponent going after Jindal during a debate in Iowa next year, pointing out his early support for Common Core. His comeback: "I sued President Obama over Common Core. I'm no cheerleader."

Now picture that same line in TV ad. Not a bad counterargument for him to make. More generally, it's a good thing in Republican circles to be suing the Obama administration -- on any issue, really.

As to whether it will work -- well, that remains to be seen. He'll still be exposed to charges of flip-flopping.

But railing against Common Core is Jindal's best political bet right now. He's addressing a potential weakness before the 2016 campaign gets rolling.

Jindal, like many Republicans, used to embrace Common Core. Unveiling his education reform plan in early 2012, Jindal lauded the adoption of Common Core standards as a step toward achieving reform.

But as Republicans have turned against it, so has Jindal. A recent poll showed that support for Common Core among Republicans dropped from 57 percent in 2013 to 43 percent this year, even as Democratic support has held steady. This is a Republican primary season issue.

Of course, this isn't Jindal's official reason for the suit. The governor explains his move away from Common Core with policy language -- the standards have spiraled out of control, he says, and now amount to an attack on state rights.

"The federal government’s actions are in violation of the Constitution and federal law and we will continue to fight to protect local control of education," said Jindal in his statement. 

It's just that, conveniently enough, these policy arguments happen to dovetail nicely with the strongest political move he could possibly have made: the one he just did.

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