House Bill Would Quicken Lawsuits Against President
Policy + Politics

House Bill Would Quicken Lawsuits Against President

But the Senate won't touch it. (It's the 2014 midterm season.)

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

What Happened: The Republican-controlled House of Representatives yesterday passed a bill that would ease the way for Congress to sue a president who doesn’t fully enforce a law or who implements policies that conflict with federal statutes. The measure passed by a vote of 233-181, with five Democrats crossing the aisle to vote with Republicans.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who authored the legislation, cited Obamacare as well as sentencing standards in a speech Wednesday on the House floor. “How do we explain waivers and exemptions and delays in a bill passed by Congress and affirmed by the United States Supreme Court?" he said. “What are we to do when this president or any president decides to selectively enforce a portion of a law and ignore other portions of that law?” The answer, according to the measure, would be to fast-track House- or Senate-passed resolutions on such matters to a three-judge panel. If lawmakers don’t like the ruling, they can appeal directly to the Supreme Court.

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Why It Matters: Partisan politics aside – if such a thing is possible in a midterm election year – the bill illustrates the ongoing power struggle between Congress and the White House, particularly when it comes to signing statements, a practice dating back to President James Monroe. When presidents sign legislation into law, they sometimes add comments ranging from the benign, saying it’s a “much-needed” bill – to the controversial, saying certain provisions are unconstitutional and won’t be enforced. In this case, though, Republicans are going a step further by criticizing the Obama administration for its stance on statutes signed into law by previous presidents.

While mechanisms already exist for congressional objections on enforcement concerns, this bill would create a new, expedited avenue – except for one key reality: The Democratic-controlled Senate has no intention of taking up the bill.

What It Means for You: The bill lays the groundwork for some of the GOP talking points heading into the midterms – that Obama makes and ignores laws at his own choosing. American voters can expect to see this issue referenced in attack ads and campaign literature. The measure also signals that Republicans are even less likely to take up comprehensive immigration legislation this year. As House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said last month, “There’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws. It’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”

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