The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Speaker Boehner’s Obama impeachment dress rehearsal

After going out on a not-so-wobbly limb to suggest that Republicans would push to impeach President Obama if they succeeded in retaking the Senate, George Will’s Sunday column read like a real threat. Fed up with what he views as Obama’s “offenses against the separation of powers,” the conservative columnist advocated that Congress sue the executive branch to stop a lawless president. Yesterday, Speaker John Boehner told the House Republican caucus that he was contemplating such a step.

According to Roll Call, Boehner “could have an announcement within days on whether the House will file a lawsuit against President Barack Obama, challenging the executive actions that have become the keystone of the administration.” The paper reports that the speaker has been consulting legal experts as part of his deliberations. The theory on which Boehner is basing his potential litigation is the same one from David Rivkin and Elizabeth Price Foley that Will highlighted in his Sunday column.

It all boils down to standing, and the courts “have been wary” of granting legislative standing,” as Will noted. But he believes Rivkin and Price plot a viable course for Congress to follow to successfully sue the president. All it requires is 1.) one branch of Congress to authorize the suit, 2.) proof that Congress has been injured by Obama’s executive actions, 3.) no private entity has standing to bring suit, and 4.) Congress has no chance of reversing the president’s action by repealing the law.

“The President has a clear record of ignoring the American people’s elected representatives and exceeding his constitutional authority, which has dangerous implications for both our system of government and our economy,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement. “The House has passed legislation to address this, but it has gone nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate, so we are examining other options.”

That legislation includes the Executive Needs to Faithfully Observe and Respect Congressional Enactments of the Law Act of 2014 or the ENFORCE the Law Act of 2014. This gem would give the House or the Senate the power to sue the president “or any officer or employee of the United States” when he is deemed to be “in violation of the constitutional requirement that the President faithfully execute the laws of the United States.” The bill also grants jurisdiction to a three-judge federal panel to hear a case. It even provides an expedited process to the Supreme Court. The sponsor of this legislation is Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the guy leading the new Benghazi show trial in the House. The other bill is the Faithful Execution of the Law Act of 2014 sponsored by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.). If passed, federal law would be amended to require the attorney general to notify Congress every time the executive branch decides to not enforce a federal law or regulation or not enforce or abide by a court decision.

Both the Gowdy and DeSantis bills are about protecting the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution. The aggrieved congressmen believe Obama, with his signing statements and executive orders, is running roughshod over their co-equal branch of government. I’d be a little more sympathetic and understanding if I didn’t know that Republicans had it in for Obama before he stepped into the Oval Office on Jan. 20, 2009.

Robert Draper’s book, released in April 2012, reports on a several-hours-long dinner of leading Republicans held the night of Obama’s first inauguration where they agreed to oppose the new president on everything. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), now the incoming House majority leader, is quoted as having said at the dinner, “If you act like you’re the minority, you’re going to stay in the minority. We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign.”

Michael Grunwald’s book, released in August 2012, added new information that extends the timeline of Republican recalcitrance. The Post’s Greg Sargent found the ah-ha paragraphs on page 207.

Biden says that during the transition, he was warned not to expect any cooperation on many votes. “I spoke to seven different Republican Senators, who said, `Joe, I’m not going to be able to help you on anything,’ he recalls. His informants said McConnell had demanded unified resistance. “The way it was characterized to me was: `For the next two years, we can’t let you succeed in anything. That’s our ticket to coming back,’” Biden says.
The vice president says he hasn’t even told Obama who his sources were, but Bob Bennett of Utah and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania both confirmed they had conversations with Biden along these lines.

The plan all along has been to crash the Obama agenda and then climb on top of the wreckage and seize power. Not only are Republicans complicit in the “failures” they rail against, but they are also the reason the president has had to resort to executive action to get some things done. Even Will agrees Obama is within his authority to do this. He just doesn’t like the degree to which he has done it. Poor dear.

By retaking the House in 2010, Republicans thought they were well on their way. Yet despite their best efforts, including a dangerous flirtation with not raising the debt ceiling, the president was reelected comfortably. That’s why I got a chuckle out of the Boehner spokesman’s whinging about Obama’s “clear record of ignoring the American people’s representatives.” He forgets that the American people elected Obama, too, twice. Just imagine how much better off this nation would be if Republicans spent as much time working with this president as they have spent opposing him.

At the end of his column, Will advocates for the courts to allow Congress to sue the president if only to keep it from utilizing “the cumbersome and divisive blunderbuss process of impeachment.” He says such a move “should be a rare recourse.” Then there was this key line: “Furthermore, it would punish a president for anti-constitutional behavior but would not correct the injury done to the rule of law.” For many Republicans, the punishment of impeachment is exactly what they want. This lawsuit threat is just the first step.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj

Read more: Jonathan Capehart on Boehner’s frivolous lawsuit against Obama

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday he plans to sue President Obama regarding his use of executive authority. (Video: YouTube: