Last summer, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) took the unusual step of announcing a lawsuit against President Obama. Boehner wasn’t sure what he would sue over, exactly, but the Republican leader was sure he wanted to take the president to court – for something.
Eventually, Boehner picked a topic – the delayed implementation of an obscure ACA provision — and after a few fits and starts, House Republicans agreed to pay a D.C. law firm $500 an hour, in taxpayer money, to handle the case. The whole thing became quite farcical when the GOP’s lawyers quit the case, followed by the replacement lawyers also quitting the case.
And as that case stumbles through the judiciary, Boehner yesterday began talking up his brand new idea: filing another lawsuit against the president. Suzy Khimm reported that the House Speaker apparently hopes to challenge Obama’s new protections for millions of undocumented immigrants.
Boehner discussed the next potential steps at a closed-door meeting with House Republicans on Tuesday. “We are finalizing a plan to authorize litigation on this issue - one we believe gives us the best chance of success,” he said, according to a source in the room.The options included filing a lawsuit against Obama over the issue or to join the handful of states that are already suing the president. If Boehner moves forward, he would put a resolution authorizing such action up for a vote.
Won’t that be fun.
On the merits, it’s very difficult to take any of this seriously. The president already has well established prosecutorial discretion, and his actions last fall on behalf of immigrants were rooted in precedents set by Obama’s predecessors. There’s no reason to believe the courts would reject the White House’s policy – the judiciary generally doesn’t like intervening in food fights between the branches – and it’s unlikely the case would even be resolved before Obama’s term in office expires.
Chances are, Boehner knows all of this, but will proceed with litigation plans anyway, It’s important to understand why.
When the Speaker launched his woefully weak case against the White House last fall, even Boehner didn’t seem to have his heart in it. After months of GOP complaints about a lawless, out-of-control tyrannical president, the Speaker’s big lawsuit was about a delayed deadline on a health care policy? It was a laughable stunt, but for Republican leaders, the suit was less about the substance and more about the partisan circumstances – Boehner heard his members demanding an aggressive confrontation with the president, possibly including impeachment, and he needed a way to lower the temperature.
The lawsuit, in this case, was intended as a distraction – by filing the litigation, Boehner could plausibly tell his members, “We’re not just sitting around doing nothing; we’re taking Obama to court!”
The Great Republican Lawsuit, Part II is remarkably similar. Republicans want another ugly fight with the White House, including a showdown over funding for the Department of Homeland Security, and Boehner wants to make the whole mess go away. The Speaker therefore sees another lawsuit as another shiny object – a toy of sorts for GOP members to play with instead of doing real damage.
Will Republicans be placated with a frivolous lawsuit doomed to fail? Probably not, but Boehner isn’t an especially strong Speaker, his bag of tricks is empty, and with Homeland Security set to run out of money in a month, he’s getting a little desperate.