In early December, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) appeared on a far-right radio talk show to talk up an odd idea: the United States was in the midst of a “Constitutional crisis,” the congressman said, making it necessary for a new lawsuit against President Obama.
As Coffman put it, the president wasn’t “going through Congress” to advance his agenda, so it was time to go to court. “I may have to do it,” he said at the time, “or somebody may have to do it.”
The far-right Coloradan never got around to explaining what in the world he was talking about, and for that matter, he never actually filed the lawsuit to address the “crisis” he perceived. But the silly idea appears to have slowly worked its way to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
House Speaker John Boehner has a message for President Obama: See you in court.The House leader announced Wednesday that he planned to sue the Obama administration over longstanding Republican complaints that the president’s use of executive orders and administrative tweaks to manage policy is unconstitutional.
“I believe the president is not faithfully executing the laws of our country, and on behalf of the institution and our Constitution, standing up and fighting for this is in the best long-term interest of the Congress,” Boehner told reporters.
Asked specifically if he’s planning to initiate a lawsuit, the Speaker replied, “I am.”
I can think of some dangerous moves Boehner has made since becoming Speaker, including threatening to trash the full faith and credit of the United States on purpose. I can also think of some reckless moves he’s made, including shutting down the government. I can even think of some irresponsible moves from the Speaker, including refusing to compromise on pretty much any area of public policy.
But I can’t think of anything quite as dumb from the last several years as this lawsuit.
Indeed, the Speaker himself couldn’t actually identify by name anything the president has done that warrants a legal challenge. Boehner is outraged by Obama’s use of executive power. And what, pray tell, has offended the Speaker? He didn’t say.
I’m sure he’ll think of something to justify his lawsuit eventually, right?
If Boehner wants to go through the motions of this little charade, it’s tempting to think such antics are irrelevant – it’s not as if these little p.r. stunts will get in the way of Congress’ non-existent legislative agenda – but let’s not forget that the Speaker’s frivolous litigation will be at the public’s expense.
That’s right, the new Republican election-year gimmick will be paid for by you and me.
This isn’t complicated: if Boehner had any evidence at all that the president’s actions were outside the law, he would have presented that evidence by now instead of rattling a weak saber.
Is this about executive orders? If so, Obama’s actions are entirely in line with his predecessors’ use of this tool that’s been around since the beginning of the republic. The only difference is, this president has used fewer executive orders than any president in over a century.
For that matter, Boehner used to like executive orders when Republican presidents made them.
Is this about executive actions? Literally nothing the president has done has even pushed the legal envelope. The right talks about shifted health care deadlines, but Bush/Cheney did the same thing. The right complains about Obama’s climate agenda, but the Supreme Court already cleared it. The right especially didn’t like the White House’s deferred action on Dream Act kids, but deferred action has been a standard move for plenty of previous administrations.
Complicating matters further, unless the Speaker’s office suddenly uncovers actual evidence of something interesting, the federal courts will probably have no interest in adjudicating a partisan tantrum launched at one branch of the federal government against another.
So if the likely lawsuit isn’t rooted in reality, substance, evidence, or law, what’s the point?
Part of this is likely the result of Republican frustration that it hasn’t stopped federal policymaking altogether. In practical terms, Boehner and other GOP lawmakers don’t just want to reject progress on areas such as civil rights, the economy, and the environment; they also want to stop the Obama administration from making progress, too.
What’s more, Republicans, lacking a policy agenda of their own and having no actual accomplishments in office, have become a little too obsessed with the notion that Obama is an out-of-control tyrant hell bent on creating a socialistic dictatorship. Boehner almost certainly realizes that his party’s rhetoric is demonstrably ridiculous, but he’s also apparently decided it’s too late to back down now.
Ultimately, though, I suspect the lawsuit is about posturing. It’s an election year and Republicans have an irrational hatred of the president. Fundraising letters need to be written, a right-wing base needs be riled up, and Fox News can only air so many Benghazi segments before their audience falls asleep.
And so Boehner, unable to explain his motivations in even rudimentary terms, has decided it’s time for a new gambit: a taxpayer-financed lawsuit, challenging a president for daring to use presidential power while a do-nothing Congress twiddles its thumbs.
We talked last week about House Republicans and the White House moving on separate tracks in separate directions: Obama would use his authority, as much as possible, to advance his priorities, while GOP lawmakers would their authority, as much as possible, to whine incessantly about “scandals” that don’t exist.
Boehner’s literally inexplicable lawsuit is obviously part of the latter. It’s an embarrassment to the institution and the nation, but at this point, that simply means more of the same.