In all likelihood, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) does not want to shut down the government. He'd probably also prefer to avoid a pointless presidential impeachment crusade.
But the Republican leader also realizes many in his party want both a shutdown and impeachment, putting the Speaker in a position where he'll need to find some alternative approach that rebukes the White House, satiates his rabid allies, but doesn't actually do anything meaningful or potentially scandalous.
Robert Costa and Ed O'Keefe report that Boehner has just such a solution in mind.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is considering expanding a proposed federal lawsuit over President Obama's executive orders to include action on immigration. Filing a separate lawsuit over the president's authority to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation is another option that gained traction Thursday during talks among party leaders.
The idea to use the courts as an initial means of dissent, should the president move forward in the coming weeks to protect millions from deportation, moved to the front of the House GOP's playbook after the leadership reviewed it. Boehner reportedly wants to respond forcefully and quickly should the president act and believes a lawsuit would do that, as well as signal to conservatives in his conference that he shares their frustrations about the president's use of executive power.
And if the goal is to give the appearance of action without doing anything too meaningful, this might do the trick. Republicans are convinced executive actions on immigration policy are a flagrant violation of the Constitution -- but only when Obama does it? Fine, go to the courts.
The lawsuit would almost certainly fail, but that's not really the point. By pursuing a legal recourse, Boehner gets to "stand up" to President Obama, he gives Republicans something specific to rally behind, and he throws cold water on the more ridiculous alternative tactics. All he has to do is add some complaints to his current anti-Obama lawsuit.
Of course, that'd be easier if the anti-Obama lawsuit actually existed.
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Charles Krauthammer, one of the most prominent Republicans in U.S. media, argued over the summer that it's foolish to talk about impeaching President Obama. "There is no danger of impeachment succeeding," he wrote in an August column. "There will never be 67 votes in the Senate to convict. But talking it up is a political bonanza for Democrats, adding donations from a listless and dispirited base."
He added that the impeachment rhetoric not only "energizes Democrats," it also "deflects attention from the real-life issues."
Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer said potential action by President Barack Obama on immigration may be "an impeachable offense."
"I believe it is an impeachable offense," Krauthammer told Fox News host Megyn Kelly Thursday evening.... Krauthammer also said an executive order on immigration would be a "flagrant assault on the Constitution."
How does the conservative pundit explain the change of heart? He doesn't. In August, faced with the likelihood of Obama pursuing changes to immigration policy through executive actions, Krauthammer saw impeachment as pointless. In November, facing the identical circumstances, Krauthammer suddenly wants to talk up the idea.
It's worth noting that Krauthammer is condemning a policy he has not seen -- usually, reading a policy is a prerequisite to competent analysis -- and to assume that executive actions on immigration policy are necessarily unconstitutional ignores the fact that several other modern presidents took executive actions on immigration policy without incident.
But stepping back, what's especially striking is to just how common such talk has become on Fox over the last week or so.
It was just 10 days ago that Republican candidates won big in elections nationwide. It was just nine days ago that incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) publicly declared, "There will be no government shutdown or default on the national debt."
But that was last week. This week, as Benjy Sarlin reports, many congressional Republicans are gearing up for yet another shutdown showdown.
President Obama is considering an executive order that would provide relief for as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. And Republicans are gearing up to fight the White House "tooth and nail" over the action, with conservatives in Congress drafting a plan to tie up a must-pass spending bill that could lead to a government shutdown.
Predicting the likely outcome of the fight is tricky, in part because no one has actually seen the White House's executive actions that Republicans are already condemning, and in part because Republicans themselves are divided on how best to proceed.
For his part, McConnell said again yesterday that "there is no possibility of a government shutdown," at least not in this session. Soon after, however, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declared that "all options are on the table" when it comes to GOP opposition to the president's policies.
Boehner's posturing is very likely the result of pressure from his House Republican members, who tend to lead their leaders, rather than the other way around. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) has assembled 59 GOP lawmakers -- and counting -- who've endorsed a letter calling on Congress to "prohibit the use of funds by the administration for the implementation of current or future executive actions that would create additional work permits and green cards outside of the scope prescribed by Congress."
To be sure, 59 is hardly a majority, but the number is growing and Republican fury isn't subsiding.
If GOP lawmakers decide to pursue a shutdown strategy, here's how it would work:
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