With barely 24 hours remaining before they will all get on planes and fly away from Washington for a five-week recess, the House of Representatives on Thursday afternoon ignored some of the unsettled issues they ought to be dealing with – the crisis on the Southern border, or the unsettled status of the Highway Trust Fund. Instead, they debated and voted on a measure to authorize a lawsuit against the President.
In doing so, House leadership has likely assured two things: a doomed lawsuit against the president will go forward, and a number of major issues, including a massive humanitarian crisis currently playing out in the Southwestern United States, will fester for another month or more without Congressional action.
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Putting aside for a moment the question of whether or not the House has a legitimate complaint about how the President has enforced the Affordable Care Act, which is the prospective suit’s primary issue, it seems very clear that, in strictly legal terms, it doesn’t have much of a case.
Even the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation recently warned that the suit has little chance of success. Democrats speaking on the floor of the house, with barely concealed glee, quoted conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion that arguments between lawmakers and the president over the enforcement of particular laws have no place in federal court.
None of this is to say that the Republicans have no basis for claiming that the President has at times played fast and loose with the law. As we have reported here, he has. But with a phalanx of attorneys, including arguably the most conservative member of the highest court in the land, on the record saying this suit is going nowhere, it seems as though the House might have found a better way to spend its second-to-last day before recess.
Of course, once the debate started on the resolution to authorize the lawsuit, pointless though it may be, members of Congress from both sides lined up to have their say.
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Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) took the lead for the GOP, arguing that the President has “Increasingly gone beyond the constraints of the constitution” and foreshadowing comments from a number of other GOP speakers, spent considerable characterizing the lawsuit as necessary to bring the country back to the “rule of law.”
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) managed the debate for the Democrats, and set the tone by describing the suit as “a political stunt, timed to peak in November, as Americans are heading to the polls.”
The debate went on in this vein for some time. Republicans want to sue the President for his decision to delay the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, which requires businesses to provide employees with health insurance. So Democrats relentlessly pointed out that the GOP wants to repeal the entire ACA and that it hates that provision in particular.
Democrats decried the Republicans’ proposed lawsuit as “a hypocritical and partisan attack… meant to distract from the pressing issues of the day.” So the GOP members spent considerable time reminding Democrats of the multiple lawsuits that members of their party filed against Republican president George W. Bush while he was in office.
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Republicans appealed to the founding fathers, with Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole somehow conflating Democrats’ complaints that Republicans were wasting public money on the lawsuit with patriots who “gave all they had” during the American Revolution.
Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) joined many Democrats in claiming that the lawsuit was the beginning of an all-out effort to end the Obama presidency, calling it “a peg on which to hang an impeachment resolution.”
All of this, of course will make for attractive sound bites when lawmakers travel home this afternoon. None of it, though, will address any of the more urgent issues facing the country.
This article was updated on Aug. 21, 2014.
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