Any Which Way

GOP Realizes Impeaching Obama Is Impossible, Votes to Sue Him Instead

With some House Republicans gunning for impeachment, their leadership is trying for a less ruinous way to punish the president—a lawsuit that passed along party lines Wednesday.

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By a vote of 225 to 201 almost entirely along party lines, the House of Representatives voted Wednesday to proceed with a lawsuit against Obama for “overstepp[ing] his constitutional authority” as president and failing to undertake his duties under Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Every Democrat present voted against the lawsuit, as did five Republicans. The lawsuit, which is likely to be thrown out of federal court on procedural grounds, focuses particularly on Obama’s decision to delay the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

The lawsuit comes as many conservatives have urged House Republicans to begin impeachment proceedings against Obama. Indeed, all five Republicans who voted against the lawsuit, including Paul Broun of Georgia and Steve Stockman of Texas, did so because they believe impeachment is more appropriate. While these calls have been limited mainly to marginal figures on the right such as former reality television star Sarah Palin, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise refused to rule it out in a television appearance Sunday.

House Speaker John Boehner and many other leading members of the GOP, however, have opposed the possibility of impeachment, calling it a political misstep. The lawsuit is viewed as an alternative that would appease the GOP’s base without alienating more moderate voters. In 1998, the failed Republican attempt to remove President Clinton from office redounded to the political benefit of Democrats. Impeachment proceedings likely would have the same effect this time, especially with the success that Democratic campaigns have had fundraising off of the specter of impeachment in recent weeks. And with 67 votes required in the Democratic-controlled Senate to convict Obama and remove him from office, successful impeachment proceedings may be impossible. (Even if Obama were somehow removed from office, conservatives probably wouldn’t be thrilled at the prospect of a President Biden).

Rep. Steve King, an ardent conservative from Iowa, praised Wednesday’s vote to The Daily Beast: “It’s necessary because the president has clearly violated the Constitution…you cannot have a president that makes up law.” The five-term Republican added: “I’m glad that the speaker is doing this…it’s a way to avoid [impeachment]. You sort out the differences between the executive and legislative through the judicial.” The lawsuit was the only alternative to beginning impeachment proceedings, he said.

King’s criticism was echoed by fellow Tea Partier Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan, who said in a statement: “Americans do not elect kings with four-year terms; we elect presidents who have the duty of executing the laws passed by Congress as they are written.”

After the vote, Democrats attacked the legislation as a waste of Congress’ time and taxpayer money. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference: “Republicans are using the taxpayers’ time and money to sue the president. We don’t have money to have an early-childhood education for our children…but we do have money to sue the president.” Her criticism was echoed by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who said Congress is “wasting their time, wasting their money, and wasting a focus on jobs.”

Once filed, the lawsuit be the House of Representatives’ first in American history against a president.