Republicans in Washington insist they aren’t planning to impeach President Obama any time soon—but did just get one step closer to suing him.
Just before lawmakers go home for the five-week August recess, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted Wednesday evening to authorize Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to file a lawsuit on behalf of the House of Representatives against the president for delaying implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
The vote was 225-201, with every Democrat voting against the lawsuit as well as five conservative Republicans who felt the suit didn’t go far enough and preferred impeachment.
The lawsuit itself is expected to fail once it reaches the inside of a courtroom, but the politics of the impending lawsuit raged Wednesday and will continue to in the months leading up to the November midterm elections.
The partisan battle and—and the talking points—over the lawsuit was on full display during the debate on the House floor before the vote. Democrats variously called the lawsuit a “political stunt,” a “gimmick,” and a “sorry spectacle of legislative malpractice” intended to appease the conservative base of the Republican Party before the midterm elections in November.
Democrats repeatedly pointed to the many issues the lower chamber should be focusing on before going home for the rest of the summer. The lawsuit is “meant to distract from the pressing issues of the day," said Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, pointing to immigration and the minimum wage.
The most impassioned case against suing the president came from Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, a civil rights icon, who urged his colleagues to vote against what he called an “offensive and insulting resolution.” Lewis called the resolution a “very low point” that “goes a little too far.”
On the other side of the aisle, Republicans argued that the lawsuit was necessary action to force the president to do his job. “It’s about defending the Constitution that we swore an oath to uphold,” said Speaker Boehner. “Are you willing to let any president decide what laws to execute and what laws to change?”
Democrats may not like the lawsuit, but they have done a good job of profiting—literally—off of the lawsuit and the possibility of impeachment. On Monday alone, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says it raised $1 million, telling supporters that Republicans want to impeach the president.
For their part, Republican Party leaders have tried to tamp down impeachment rumors. But some GOP lawmakers and commentators have been whispering about the possiblity for years now and talk has picked up over last few months. Republicans like Boehner walk a fine line explaining to constituents that a lawsuit against the president is appropriate but impeachment is not. Democrats are taking advantage of how hard it is to draw that line.
According to the polls, the public isn’t behind a lawsuit or impeachment, but Republicans are. A CNN poll last week found that a majority of Americans oppose the lawsuit, 57 percent to 41 percent, while only 35 percent supported impeachment. Like many issues today, the breakdown is along party lines. A YouGov poll earlier this month showed 89 percent of Republicans but only 13 percent of Democrats believe Obama has exceeded his authority.