Over the weekend, John Boehner ascended the venerable soapbox that is CNN.com to make the case for suing President Obama. The title of his op-ed, “Why We Must Sue the President,” reflects the idea that this lawsuit represents some sort of solemn obligation that House Republicans can hardly avoid. While there can be little doubt that Boehner sincerely believes that Obama has overstepped his authority, there is also little doubt that the Speaker knows this case is a political charade. Unfortunately, this latest invented crisis will cost taxpayer money, widen partisan divisions (if that’s possible) and plunge the country into another bitter political controversy.
The specifics of Boehner’s lawsuit are unknown, as his piece offered only vague charges that the President is “creating his own laws, and excusing himself from enforcing statutes he is sworn to uphold.” Presumably, this is a reference to Obama’s use of executive orders, which are frequently cited by conservatives as an example of his tyrannical rule. Executive orders, however, have been widely used by virtually every president since George Washington, and Obama has issued them at a slower pace than any president since Grover Cleveland. Although the constitution does not explicitly mention the executive order, the courts have upheld their use in several cases, and it is an executive power well within the boundaries of American political tradition.
One point Boehner fails to mention is that Obama’s alleged usurpation of legislative power comes at a time when the House has all but sworn off legislative action. Traditionally, the House is supposed to be a functional part of the U.S. government. Under the leadership of Boehner and his unruly Tea Party cadres, the house has continually distinguished itself through its inaction. Boehner to be jealously guarding a power he is determined not to use unless the platform of his party is enacted in uncompromised entirety. Given the fact that 66 million people voted for President Obama and his platform in 2012, this is a rather unreasonable expectation.
Beyond the platitudes about defending the constitution and legislative power, there is little substance in Boehner’s argument, and occasional hints at the political reasons for this measure. After charging that “the President has circumvented the American people and their elected representatives”, Boehner goes on to note that efforts by the House to address this problem have failed to pass the Senate. It seems odd that Boehner is circumventing the democratically-elected representatives in the Senate to sue the democratically-elected president in order to prevent the circumvention of elected representatives. Don’t bother trying to find the logic here, this is a political calculation.