Just a day before lawmakers were to begin a five-week summer recess, debate over the proposed lawsuit underscored the harshly partisan tone that has dominated the current Congress almost from its start in January 2013.
The vote to sue Obama was 225 to 201. Five conservative Republicans voted with Democrats in opposing the lawsuit. No Democrats voted for it.
Republicans said the legal action, focusing on Obama’s implementation of his prized health care overhaul, was designed to prevent a further presidential power grab and his deciding unilaterally how to enforce laws.
“Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change?” asked House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio
The Republicans also scoffed at Democratic claims that the lawsuit would be a waste of taxpayers’ money.
“What price do you place on the continuation of our system of checks and balances? What price do you put on the Constitution of the United States?” said Rep. Candice Miller of Michigan. “My answer to each is ‘priceless.'”
However, Democrats said the lawsuit would go nowhere and was designed only to encourage conservatives to vote in this November’s congressional elections. They also warned repeatedly that it could be a precursor of a more drastic GOP effort. Said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.: “The lawsuit is a drumbeat pushing members of the Republican Party to impeachment.”
Congressional lawsuits against presidents are rare. In 2008, a federal judge backed a suit by Democrats who then controlled the House and were trying to force the Bush administration to honor House subpoenas of senior White House officials. Though the House won the first round in court, that decision was under appeal when a settlement was reached and the lawsuit was dropped.
On Wednesday, neither side wasted time in using the fight to mine campaign contributions and line up support for their candidates.
House Democrats emailed one fundraising solicitation as debate was underway and another moments after the vote, with one saying, “The GOP is chomping at the bit to impeach the president.” And White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer emailed supporters, saying, ‘This is the least productive Congress in decades. And instead of doing their job, they are suing the president for doing his.”
The Republican Party also went to work. An email called the House vote a “huge step” in curbing Obama and added, “Contribute right now to end Obama’s executive overreach by expanding our Republican majority in the House and gaining a majority in the Senate.”
Though the vote was almost entirely along party lines, five conservative GOP lawmakers opposed the lawsuit: Reps. Paul Broun of Georgia, Scott Garrett of New Jersey, Walter Jones of North Carolina, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Steve Stockman of Texas.
Some prominent conservatives including former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin have called for Obama’s impeachment, and some House GOP lawmakers have not ruled it out. Boehner has said he has no such plans and has called Democratic impeachment talk a “scam” to raise money.