John Boehner wants to sue the president. Again. Actually, that’s not quite accurate, given that the first lawsuit against the White House he and the House GOP voted to authorize has sat unfiled for months as Republicans try to find a law firm that won’t quit the case out of embarrassment. It’s more precise to say that Boehner is threatening to sue the White House again, this time over Obama’s proposed executive action on immigration.
According to the Washington Post:
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is considering expanding a proposed federal lawsuit over President Obama’s executive orders to include action on immigration. Filing a separate lawsuit over the president’s authority to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation is another option that gained traction Thursday during talks among party leaders.
The idea to use the courts as an initial means of dissent, should the president move forward in the coming weeks to protect millions from deportation, moved to the front of the House GOP’s playbook after the leadership reviewed it. Boehner reportedly wants to respond forcefully and quickly should the president act and believes a lawsuit would do that, as well as signal to conservatives in his conference that he shares their frustrations about the president’s use of executive power.
Let’s be clear about this: suing the president over immigration is just as pointless as suing the president over the Affordable Care Act. Even if the Republicans could convince a judge that they have standing to file suit against the executive branch, the case itself would spend years winding through the legal system and wouldn’t be resolved until long after Barack Obama has left office. And as we’ve seen with the ACA suit, voting to sue doesn’t mean that the House will actually take any meaningful, timely action. The threat Obama poses to the Constitution is imminent, they insist, but the timing of their response is forever TBD.
The reason why the lawsuit option is so popular with the House Republican leadership is that it’s the least self-destructive option politically for the GOP. Conservatives in the House (backed by right-wing activist groups) want to for a showdown over government appropriations to block Obama from acting on immigration, which raises the specter of another government shutdown. Conservative pundits (and a few House Republicans) are clamoring for impeachment if Obama goes ahead with his unilateral immigration plans. Boehner won’t rule out a fight over government funding, but it’s reasonable to assume that the Republican leadership is reluctant to go down either of those roads, given the high likelihood of political backlash.
And so they default once again to the lawsuit option, which gives the appearance of standing up to the White House without actually having to force a confrontation with the White House. Think of it as a pressure release valve for the unruly conservatives who make Boehner’s life hell by constantly agitating for shutdown fights and impeachment.
None of these options are great for Boehner or the Republicans. The White House is gearing up to make a significant policy shift that will lift the shadow of deportation from millions of people, and the GOP is struggling to decide whether they’ll impeach Obama, sue him, or shut down the government. That’s a bad look for a party that already has trouble appealing to Hispanic voters. The problem for Boehner specifically is that the rabidly anti-Obama elements of his party aren’t apt to be mollified by half-measures for long. Already conservatives are griping that Boehner isn’t doing everything he can to obstruct Obama on immigration.
The election results gave the base a taste for blood, and they want the people they voted into power to attack as savagely as possible. Boehner knows he can’t do that without risking substantial blowback, but he also can’t just ignore the conservatives in his party, so he’s throwing the lawsuit out there to keep the hounds at bay for as long as possible.