For the first time in American history, a chamber of Congress has authorized its leader to sue the President of the United States.
In a 225-201 vote, the House of Representatives backed Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in his decision to file a lawsuit against President Obama over his handling of the Affordable Care Act. Boehner and other Republicans allege that Obama has flouted his constitutional authority by unilaterally extending deadlines in the law, particularly those related to the employer mandate penalties.
As RT noted previously, the president delayed the mandate – which would penalize employers who chose not to offer health insurance to their workers – for one year back in July 2013. When it was supposed to take effect this year, it was again pushed back into 2015. If filed, the lawsuit would attempt to make Obama implement the ACA exactly on the timetable that was originally passed by Congress – despite Republican attempts to repeal the legislation in its entirety.
All but five Republicans voted in favor of suing the president, while all Democrats voted against the proposal. Speaking on the floor of the House before the vote took place, Boehner dismissed allegations that the lawsuit is yet another round of political gamesmanship between the two parties.
"This isn't about Republicans and Democrats. It's about defending the Constitution that we swore an oath to uphold," Boehner said, according to Talking Points Memo. "Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change? Are you willing to let anyone tear apart what our founders have built?"
Other Republicans also framed the vote in terms of Congress’ constitutional responsibility.
"If there were a Republican president doing the same thing, I would feel just as strongly. This is about the Constitution," said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) to the Huffington Post. "For too long, this body, under the leadership of both Democrats and Republicans, has ceded parts of our constitutional authority to the executive branch."
Immediately after the vote, White House advisor Dan Pfeiffer criticized the House. “Instead of doing their job,” he told CBS News’ Mark Knoller, “they are suing the President for doing his."
"He is not going to back away from his efforts to use his authority to solve problems & help American families," says WH official of POTUS.
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) July 30, 2014
Before the vote, Obama himself took on Republicans for choosing to go after him personally instead of focusing on issues pertaining to the economy or the crisis at the country’s border with Mexico.
"Stop being mad all the time. Stop just hatin’ all the time," he said during a speech in Missour, as quoted by Reuters. "There’s a bunch of stuff that needs to get done … Unfortunately, I think the main vote ... that they’ve scheduled for today is whether or not they decide to sue me for doing my job."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also slammed the move, arguing it’s a distraction that could also be seized upon as a step towards impeachment.
"Republicans are putting the special interests and the howls of impeachment-hungry extremists before the needs of the nation," Pelosi said to the Post. "The lawsuit is only the latest proof of House Republicans' contempt and disregard for the priorities of the American people."
Although this is the first time a chamber of Congress has endorsed suing a president, individual members have sued the Commander in Chief before. George W. Bush faced legal action over his budget in 2006, while Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) sued Obama earlier this year over the ACA’s consequences for his staff.
Both lawsuits failed to gain traction in the courts, which tossed them out for lack of standing. If Boehner decides to file his lawsuit, it will face a similar challenge. The speaker would have to prove that the House has suffered from material injury – something that has never been granted in previous presidential lawsuits. If successful, Republicans would also have to prove their allegations can stand up to scrutiny under the law.