KANSAS CITY, Mo. – President Obama could just as easily have ignored the House Republican plan to authorize a lawsuit against him Wednesday over accusations that he had abused his executive power. He might have chosen not to dignify the move with a presidential response — and to focus instead on his proposals to grow the economy.
Instead, Obama showered attention on the lawsuit, relishing an opportunity to belittle the GOP.
“Stop being mad all the time. Stop just hatin’ all the time,” Obama said at the Uptown Theater here in Kansas City. “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.”
Obama’s remarks here, dubbed an economic speech, were scheduled for a fortuitous day: The government reported Wednesday that the economy expanded at an annual rate of 4 percent in the spring. Also, the night before, Obama dined over barbecue with four people who had written him letters.
But with just over three months until voters head to the polls in the midterm elections, the White House and Democratic candidates appear to be embracing a strategy of highlighting what they see as outlandish acts by Republicans in an election year.
“The main vote they’ve scheduled for today is whether or not they decide to sue me for doing my job,” Obama said to boos and laughs. “Think about this: They have announced they’re going to sue me for taking executive actions to help people. So they’re mad I’m doing my job,” he said.
“And by the way, I’ve told them I’d be happy to do it with you,” he said. “The only reason I’m doing it on my own is because you’re not doing anything.”
Obama didn’t bring up the other hot topic in Washington: the possibility of an impeachment proceeding.
An idea first floated by some of the GOP’s top firebrands, senior Republican officials have rejected it. Still, White House officials have been happy to fan the flames in recent days, perhaps hoping to remind voters of Republicans who sought to impeach President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has called all the talk a “scam” brought on by the White House to raise money.
At a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Wednesday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) echoed the speaker, saying, “I see this as a ridiculous gambit by the president to try to change the narrative, raise money and activate the base for an upcoming election that they feel is not going their way.”
But Ryan said he supported the lawsuit, which specifically targets Obama’s executive actions affecting implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
“I stand with the speaker in thinking that the president has exceeded his authority,” Ryan said. “The president is not necessarily the superior branch of government when it comes to all things Constitution.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest argued Tuesday that the Republicans were more serious about the idea of impeaching the president than Boehner was letting on.
“If that’s the case, then I suspect that there may be members of the Republican conference that didn’t receive the memo,” Earnest said, listing a number of lawmakers, including Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) apparently open to the idea. “It’s an indication that if this is the case then maybe the speaker should direct that attention and that message to members of his own conference.”
It’s not the first time the White House has followed such a strategy. While the criticism of Obama’s handling of attacks on two U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya, was at first dealt with as a serious matter, White House aides ultimately mocked Republicans’ unending probes into the issue.
And White House officials routinely remind the public that Republicans have taken dozens of votes to undermine the Affordable Care Act.
In his remarks, Obama called on Congress to focus on more important matters, such as closing a loophole that allows companies to move their headquarters overseas to avoid paying corporate taxes.
The so-called tax inversions are becoming a rallying cry for Democrats this year, channelling previous election year messages about bringing jobs home that have resonated with voters.
“If they’re not paying their fare share and stashing their money off shore, you don’t have that option. Not only is it not right, it ain’t right,” Obama said.
Lori Montgomery in Washington contributed to this report.