President Barack Obama speaks before signing an executive order on Thursday, July 31, 2014, at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington. His use of executive orders has prompted a lawsuit by Republicans in the House of Representatives that was authorized by a vote on Wednesday. Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted Wednesday to take President Barack Obama to court. But the lawsuit could actually help, not hurt, Democrats, especially when it comes to fundraising.
Republicans accuse Obama of abusing his executive power in a number of areas but have seized on the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, to serve as the basis for this rare court action.
The controversial law passed in 2010 that Republicans have tried repeatedly to repeal contains a provision that mandates most businesses to provide health care to their employees. Obama delayed the implementation of that part of the law by a year, without the approval of Congress, and Republicans argue he overstepped his constitutional authority.
Speaker John Boehner, leading the charge, announced his party’s intention to pursue legal action in June and now, with a vote of 225-201, he has the authorization to proceed.
"This isn't about me suing the president. It's not about Republicans versus Democrats. This is about the legislative branch that's being disadvantaged by the executive branch," Boehner told reporters on July 10. House Republicans say they are doing their duty by defending their institution and the Constitution.
That's far from the truth, according to Democrats and the White House, who describe the lawsuit as a "taxpayer-funded political stunt" designed to inspire their base supporters and appease frustrated hardliners. It's a waste of time and money, they say, and will go nowhere.
Obama makes no apologies for using his executive authority to make legislative changes. He’s had to do it because Republicans keep blocking legislation, he argues, and nothing gets done.
Lawsuit heightens partisanship
"They have announced that they’re going to sue me for taking executive actions to help people. So they’re mad because I’m doing my job," Obama told a crowd at an event in Kansas on Wednesday. He also reminded them who is funding the lawsuit.
"By the way, you know who is paying for this suit they’re going to file? You. You’re paying for it," he said. That line will likely be repeated often as the lawsuit moves forward.
The gridlock and partisanship on Capitol Hill was already intense, now a lawsuit — and talk of impeachment — has ramped up the rhetoric even higher. Members of Congress are heading home for the rest of the summer and when they come back to Washington, the midterm November elections will be right around the corner and they will be in full-time preparation mode.
And that’s what this lawsuit is really about, some Democrats argue. They say Republicans intended to motivate their base ahead of the elections, but argue that the strategy is actually backfiring.
"They strove to energize their base — they energized ours," House minority leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday.
Boehner has clearly said he has no intention of going down the impeachment road, that it’s only a lawsuit, but Democrats are ignoring his repeated statements that Republicans aren’t interested in trying to kick Obama out of office.
They insist Republicans are using the lawsuit as a testing ground and ultimately will try to impeach Obama. Some also say that’s a good thing because it could change the outcome of November’s elections.
"I personally believe that if that’s their plan and it very likely is their plan, that that’s one of the best things that could happen to us," Representative Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat, said in an interview earlier this week.
"I think that the (Republican) base is demanding it now because they are giving false hope that it is possible. So, I think they are going to do it. And if they do, I think people can get ready to dance in Washington in January because I think that the House will turn over to Democrats. No question about it."
Getting base supporters out to vote in midterm elections is a persistent challenge for the parties and for the Democrats in particular which is why some believe the lawsuit hype could be fortunate timing.
"Any time that Republicans talk about impeaching the president and anytime that they focus on suing the president, you can expect our base to be energized — and it is," Representative Steve Israel, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, said on MSNBC on Wednesday.
He suggested Republicans are jeopardizing their chances with swing voters by pursuing the lawsuit. "The more they see this Republican Congress just completely obsessing in their hatred of Barack Obama, the more convinced they are that we need a different majority this November," said Israel.
While Democrats say Republicans are pushing the lawsuit to pump up their base, Republicans say Democrats are the ones using it to appeal to theirs, by creating a false narrative about impeachment intentions.
"This whole talk about impeachment is coming from the president's own staff, and coming from Democrats on Capitol Hill. Why? Because they're trying to rally their people to give money and to show up in this year's elections," Boehner said, adding that his party has "no plans" to pursue impeachment.
"Listen, it's all a scam, started by Democrats at the White House," he said.
Whatever it is, it’s making a lot of money for the Democrats. The Washington Post reported that late last week a series of email appeals citing the impeachment threat were sent out and in the span of just four days $2.1 million was collected online. The average donation was $19, a sign that the appeal was reaching deeply into the party’s grassroots and 75,000 of the contributions came from donors who had never given before, the paper reported.
Politico reported that the DCCC had raked in $7.6 million in online donations since Boehner announced the lawsuit in June.
The Republicans are also seeking to raise funds using the issue, reportedly sending an email out Thursday night after the vote asking for help "to end Obama’s executive overreach."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest was asked about the fundraising push and said it’s up to Democrats to ensure their candidates have enough resources to run successful campaigns.
"I will leave it to Democratic strategists, who have a much better sense than I do about the best way to raise money for their campaign committees," he said at a daily briefing. On Thursday, Earnest said once the lawsuit is filed the administration will determine how to defend itself.
In other words, let the fundraising continue, and see you in court.
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