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Saturday, December 3, 2016

On Thursday evening, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) finally revealed the details of his long-awaited plan to sue President Barack Obama, and they come as something of a surprise. In essence, the Speaker is asking the House to sue the president for not implementing Obamacare quickly enough.

“Today we’re releasing a draft resolution that will authorize the House to file suit over the way President Obama unilaterally changed the employer mandate,” Boehner said in a statement. “In 2013, the president changed the health care law without a vote of Congress, effectively creating his own law by literally waiving the employer mandate and the penalties for failing to comply with it. That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work. No president should have the power to make laws on his or her own.”

Legally, Boehner’s plan is on shaky ground. While the House has never institutionally sued a president for not enforcing the law, several individual members of Congress have tried, and almost all of their cases were dismissed for lack of standing. Even if a court agrees to hear the case, it’s not at all clear that President Obama broke the law by delaying the implementation of the employer mandate, giving employers with more than 50 full-time employees an extra year to offer their workers health insurance. And even if the House wins its suit, its prize would likely be the immediate implementation of a policy which Republicans claim to hate.

Politically, Boehner’s plan seems destined to fall flat. It promises to undermine Republicans’ own talking points, while potentially pushing the far right even further towards open revolt against his authority.

When Speaker Boehner announced his intention to sue the president, he laid out a broad range of areas in which President Obama had supposedly acted illegally.

“On one matter after another during his presidency, President Obama has circumvented the Congress through executive action, creating his own laws and excusing himself from executing statutes he is sworn to enforce – at times even boasting about his willingness to do it, as if daring the America people to stop him,” Boehner wrote. “On matters ranging from health care and energy to foreign policy and education, President Obama has repeatedly run an end-around on the American people and their elected legislators, straining the boundaries of the solemn oath he took on Inauguration Day.”

But when it came time to pick an executive action for the lawsuit, he settled on one that Republicans themselves supported. House Republicans wanted to delay the employer mandate, and they voted to do so in July 2013. And when President Obama delayed it unilaterally, Republicans didn’t complain that he abused his power. Instead, they urged him to do it again.

“Is it fair for the president of the United States to give American businesses an exemption from his health care law’s mandate without giving the same exemption to the rest of America? Hell no, it’s not fair,” Boehner said at the time. “We should be thinking about giving the rest of America the same exemption that Obama last week gave businesses.”

Now House Republicans must explain why, one year ago, they were encouraging the president to “run an end-around” on them.

They also must explain what happened to all of the other examples of President Obama’s iron-fisted tyranny. As The New Republic’s Brian Beutler points out, Republicans — led by Boehner — have literally spent years accusing President Obama of recklessly breaking the law when it suits his needs. The fact that the employer-mandate delay from one year ago is the only example that they could come up with badly undermines that talking point.

Finally, by picking the employer mandate as the hill on which he’ll die, Boehner may have created an even greater political problem for himself. The Speaker’s decision to sue the president has been widely interpreted as a tactic to placate right-wing Republicans who would rather see Boehner attempt to impeach Obama. Whether he’s successful remains to be seen. Boehner’s lawsuit plan has certainly not changed the minds of those Republicans who have already called for Obama to be removed from office, and it seems very plausible that it won’t leave the congressmen who have accused Obama of breaking the law in other areas — such as immigration reform — satisfied. If one of them chooses to ignore Boehner’s wishes and introduces a resolution of impeachment, it would create a crisis for Boehner’s leadership — and end the Republican Party’s hopes of keeping its base under control through the midterms.

Photo: Talk Radio News Service via Flickr

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