After a day of drama in the chamber, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill on a party-line vote that authorizes the House to file a lawsuit against President Barack Obama.
House Republicans say the president violated the Constitution in 2013 by changing his signature health care reform law without getting approval from Congress. Democrats say the bill is a political stunt designed to undermine the president's legitimacy.
It was a day of impassioned debate on the House floor about the state of American democracy. House Republicans say Democratic President Barack Obama has openly bragged on several occasions that he has a pen, and if Congress will not act to solve problems, he will act on his own on issues such as immigration and health care.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner said the lawsuit is not about Republicans or Democrats, but about defending the U.S. Constitution from overreach by the Executive branch.
“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? – asked Boehner.
But most Democrats fiercely oppose the lawsuit as a political move to fire up conservative Republican voters during an election year, and as a waste of Congress’ time and taxpayer money.
Some Democrats said some Republicans have bitterly opposed President Obama from his very first day in office. Democratic Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis said the lawsuit goes too far.
“I urge each and every one of my colleagues to have the raw courage, nothing but courage, to oppose this insulting and offensive resolution,” said Lewis.
Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd in the midwestern city of Kansas City, Missouri, the president seemed to brush off the vote, and he poked fun at Republicans for wasting time on the measure with only two days left before they leave Washington for their August recess.
“Instead of suing me for doing my job, I want Congress to do its job, and make life a little better for the Americans who send them there in the first place. Stop posturing,” said he to cheers and applause.
Some Democrats pointed out that is ironic that House Republicans want to sue the president for delaying part of the Affordable Care Act, which the House has voted to repeal or delay more than 50 times.
Presidential historian Alan Lichtman of American University said he believes the vote, like many things in Washington, is highly political.
If it is a political maneuver, it is quite likely to backfire on the Republicans just as the impeachment of Bill Clinton backfired on the Republicans back in the late 1990s.
Lichtman said if courts find that the House has the standing to sue the president, it would put Congress in uncharted waters.
“Well this effort, it if were to succeed, to sue President Obama, would be historically unprecedented. Usually the remedy, when you believe the president has been abusing his power, is impeachment,” said Lichtman.
Some Democrats have suggested that the lawsuit may be a first step, laying the groundwork for Republicans to try to impeach President Obama.
House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi challenged House Speaker Boehner to rule impeachment out.
“Impeachment is off the table. Why hasn’t the speaker said that?” – asked Pelosi.
Earlier in the week, Boehner said the talk of impeachment was a “scam” by Democrats to fire up their voters and raise money for the November elections. The White House has said it is taking the possibility of impeachment seriously, especially if the president takes more executive actions on immigration reform.
Analysts say a potential lawsuit against the president, if it moves forward, could take years to actually make it to court.