Within the span of a week: planes were downed over warzones in Eastern Europe and West Africa, war is erupting into point-of-no-return in the Middle East, and a humanitarian crisis is brewing on the U.S.-Mexico border.
But, as if there wasn’t enough on the Obama White House plate, House Republicans moved forward on a plan to sue the president for not properly enforcing a law they never liked in the first place: the Affordable Care Act — otherwise derisively nicknamed by Republican message flacks as “Obamacare.”
Observers view the merits of the suit as unclear and surreal at best. After all, say experts, it’s a stretch: how do the law’s staunchest critics justify a sudden rush to protect its integrity? Yet, the House Rules Committee — dominated by Republicans — moved forward effortlessly in a hotly partisan 7-4 vote that authorized a full vote by the House of Representatives.
“The President’s failure to uphold his oath dangerously shifts the balance of power away from what the Founding Fathers intended and the Constitution requires,” growled committee chair Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) in a statement. “Congress’ ability to effectively represent the American people is severely restricted when the executive unilaterally chooses to create its own laws.”
“This waste is so catastrophic,” Ranking Member Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) shot back during a tense markup session in which committee Democrats made a futile attempt at introducing an amendment that sought to undermine the reasons behind the lawsuit. “We are squandering time, money, and resources. We could be building roads, fixing bridges, or investing in high speed rail. Instead, the Majority is continuing their pattern of waste.”
The committee vote set the stage for a fairly acrimonious, but expectedly pro forma process on the House floor in which the chamber’s majority GOP caucus votes in lock-step with the plan. And while the lawsuit’s creator, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) may be filing the suit as a bone to ravenous impeachment-ready Republicans smelling blood on the ground, there’s little doubt the maneuver will provide a number of political opportunities for opposing sides already locked in Congressional gridlock.
Republicans may have found an issue du jour to get their red state base amped and ready for November — at least they hope so. Congressional midterms typically experience an uptick in Republican voter activity compared to Democrats. But, as a recent Pew Center survey suggests, the enthusiasm gap between voters on the left and right is narrowing with 45 percent saying they’d vote Republican compared to 47 percent who’d vote Democrat if the election were held today.
And Democrats, while publicly dismissing the suit as a stunt unseen since the days of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, are already using it as an effective fundraising tool for tight House and Senate races in the months ahead. Eager to elbow House Republicans into a sweaty corner during the upcoming Congressional recess the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already drafted up fresh robocall messages for nearly 20 competitive House districts with vulnerable Republicans.
What’s now stumping observers is the subsequent game of legal musical chairs to follow in which House Republican counsel will need to determine the best venue for litigating a suit that most scholars deem dead on docket arrival. Technically, an immediate trip for the suit once the Congressional vote passes would the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
However, the legal calculus is just as tricky and just as fraught with partisan peril as the clear political calculus. Should House Republicans decide to file in the District Court, the suit faces likely defeat as there are 14 judges appointed by Democratic presidents out of the 20 currently sitting on the bench.
The key for Republicans is finding a friendly court — and that will be based on pure partisan numbers just like last week’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act.
Washington feigned surprise upon hearing two simultaneous, but contradictory federal court decisions on the ACA’s health insurance subsidies, but longtime observers knew better once gleaning the composition of appointees sitting on the bench in each jurisdiction.
Naturally, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit voted against the ACA since 10 out of the 18 judges are Republican-appointees. But, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond voted for the ACA, not so surprising since 11 out of the 18 judges were appointed by Democratic presidents since Jimmy Carter.
What is for certain is that suing President Obama plays to the new 50 percent: the consistent and stubborn 30 percent of the American electorate that leans right.
Across a wide range of polls questioning the American public on the lawsuit’s merits, an average of anywhere from 30 to 40 percent appears as the ongoing polarization narrative persists.
As the resolution to sue the president made its rounds through the House Rules Committee, a CNN/ORC poll found 57 percent of Americans opposed to the lawsuit — but 41 percent still wanting it. And while that same poll showed 65 percent of Americans not feeling any move to impeach the president, it did find 35 percent who are.
That comports with poll after poll gauging the anger of an entrenched 30 percent that either supports the Tea Party or the 40 percent, according to a Rasmussen poll, that either believes the president is a foreigner or isn’t too sure.