Boehner to sue Obama for executive orders; Pelosi says speaker needs to be an ‘adult’

By Jacqueline Klimas


Speaker John A. Boehner said Wednesday that the House will vote later this year on whether to sue President Obama to try to force him to adhere more strictly to the law, in what could shape up as a major constitutional clash.


The outlines of the lawsuit were sketchy, but the move signaled the seething frustration many Republicans in Congress feel as they watch Mr. Obama issue executive orders and policies and make decisions on the environment, immigration, social issues and national security that the lawmakers say stretch his powers.


“The Constitution makes it clear that the president’s job is to faithfully execute the law and, in my view, the president has not faithfully executed the laws,” said Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican.


Legal analysts debated over the likely scope and potential successes of a challenge, while the White House mocked the effort.


“The fact they are considering a taxpayer-funded lawsuit against the president of the United States for doing his job, I think, is the kind of step most Americans wouldn’t support,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.


In a memo to fellow lawmakers, Mr. Boehner said he will ask them to vote in July on a resolution that would authorize House lawyers to file suit.


Mr. Boehner said he has not yet decided which specific executive actions would be included in the lawsuit, though the memo suggests the House suit may instead be a broad grievance.


House Republicans have accused the president of overstepping on everything from overextending environmental regulations to bombing Libya without congressional approval, and from ignoring immigration laws to making bogus recess appointments.


Simon Lazarus, senior counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center, said that until Republicans list what specifically they’ll sue over, Mr. Boehner’s push is going nowhere. 


“He never once names a single act that he intends to challenge or believes is unconstitutional or illegal, so it’s impossible to give much credence to this,” Mr. Lazarus said. “It’s really quite difficult to see this as anything other than a transparent political stunt.”


Mr. Lazarus said a court would be unlikely to even take up a broad complaint and that courts typically don’t hear cases that they judge to be purely political disputes.


Congress and the executive branch regularly clash over the extent of their powers, but Mr. Obama has been more forthright than previous presidents in welcoming the chance to circumvent Congress.


When Congress has deadlocked on Mr. Obama’s priorities, he has issued executive orders or administrative policies that go at least part of the way. In one instance, after Congress wouldn’t raise the minimum wage nationwide, the president issued an order raising the wage for federal contractors.


But that’s an unlikely avenue for a challenge because if Congress wanted to stop the president, it already has tools to do so, said Louis Fisher, a scholar at the Constitution Project and former specialist on separation of powers for the Library of Congress.


“The House has plenty of its own institutional powers to control the president. That would be true with raising the minimum wages of federal contractors,” he said, since Congress could just not appropriate any money to the wage increase. “Any effort to litigate that, the court would throw it out. The court would say, ‘You have your own remedies; you don’t need us.’”


The deal that exchanged five Taliban guerrillas for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s return, however, could be a more ripe target, Mr. Fisher said, especially since both political parties have been critical of the president for not giving Congress the required 30 days notice to release prisoners from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


“That to me would be action in court that has merit,” he said. “If both chambers are agreed, as with the 30 days notice, it’s a stronger case than when the two chambers are divided.”


Mr. Boehner, in his memo, said when he travels outside Washington, voters regularly ask him to stand up to Mr. Obama’s use of executive authority.


He said allowing a president to unilaterally reinterpret laws sets a dangerous precedent that shifts power from Congress and amounts to “giving the president kinglike authority.”


He demurred when asked Wednesday whether this was the first step toward impeaching Mr. Obama.


Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said that Mr. Boehner is only pursuing the lawsuit to look like Congress is doing something and hopes he takes the more mature approach to drop the lawsuit.


“There really needs to be an adult in the room of the Republican caucus. I hope the speaker is that adult,” she said.


Mrs. Pelosi said that instead of suing the president, Republicans should be working to pass the legislation that she says is important to the American people, including the voting rights act, immigration reform and an extension to unemployment insurance.


However, Democratic fundraisers quickly moved to take advantage of the Boehner letter in appeals to their base. The House Majority PAC called the letter “a new low” in an online solicitation for funds that also accused Mr. Boehner of “caving in to pressure from the right and suing President Obama.”

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