Rather than getting on with the country's business and focusing solely on can't-wait issues before they jet out of town this weekend — like the unfinished bill to fix veterans' health care and the stalled bill to deal with the humanitarian crisis of Central American children arriving at the border— House Republicans are gearing up for a grand maneuver: an apparently unprecedented move by the House to sue the president over his use of executive orders.
Talk about misplaced priorities.
But this isn't about the public's priorities, not even close. This is about base-voter activation; this is about midterm turnout. The president's most ardent opposition wants more punishing actions taken. There is an insatiable vengeance-lust for the haughty president who refuses to bend under pressure or fold under duress.
He must be brought to heel. He must be chastened. He must be broken. So, House Republicans are throwing the red meat into the cage.
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Even Paul Ryan, fresh off his "Opportunity Grant" move to address poverty in this country — a plan that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said "would likely increase poverty and hardship" rather than decrease it — said Friday that he would vote for the measure to sue the president.
I'm not sure Ryan is aware that people making less than $30,000 a year voted for Barack Obama nearly 2-to-1 over his opponents in 2008 and 2012. Low-income people are Obama's people. You can't make a show of supposedly extending them a hand one day and use that hand to take a slap at their political hero the next. Or maybe you can, if your sense of cognitive dissonance is strong enough.
The White House is returning in kind, picking up the language of the most extreme among the far right to invoke the word "impeachment."
Dan Pfeiffer, the Obama administration senior adviser, said Friday, "I think Speaker Boehner, by going down the path of this lawsuit, has opened the door to impeachment sometime in the future."
It should be noted that most senior Republican leaders are not clamoring for impeachment —and John Boehner has flatly ruled it out, for now — but the idea that a lawsuit is akin to "impeachment lite" is one Democrats would love to take hold for the same reason that the lawsuit exists in the first place: politics.
But the concept isn't completely without underpinning. In a recent Los Angeles Times article titled "Why Experts See Little Hope for GOP Plan to Sue Obama Over Law's Delay," David G. Savage pointed out: "While the Constitution does not authorize the legislative branch to sue the president, it says the House of Representatives may vote on articles of impeachment if it believes the president has committed 'high crimes and misdemeanors.' If Republicans believe Obama has broken the law, impeachment is the appropriate vehicle, analysts say."
Adding an unprecedented legal maneuver to a long list of what Democrats view as extraordinary slights against this particular president is likely to excite a liberal base in dire need of excitement.
As a report by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press pointed out: "Barack Obama is as powerful a motivating factor for Republican voters as he was in 2010: about half (51 percent) of those who say they will vote Republican this fall consider their vote as a vote 'against' Obama, little changed from June 2010 (52 percent). And Obama has become a less positive factor for Democrats - 36 percent of those who plan to vote for the Democrat in their district view their vote as being 'for' Obama, down from 44 percent four years ago."
But the anti-Obama Republican lawsuit could change all that.
A CNN/ORC poll released Friday found that while 45 percent of respondents said they believed the president had gone too far in expanding the power of the presidency and the executive branch, 52 percent believed that he "has been about right" or "has not gone far enough."
For comparison, in 2006, the sixth year of the George W. Bush administration, 48 percent believed that he had gone too far, while just as many thought he was about right or hadn't gone far enough.
Furthermore, only 41 percent of Americans believe House Republicans should sue the president, as opposed to 57 percent who believe they shouldn't.
And if you believe that the lawsuit is simply, as some have called it, "impeachment lite," the public truly has no appetite for that. Respondents in the CNN/ORC poll opposed impeachment by nearly 2-to-1.
This may all be political theater, but in this act Democrats appear to have the most compelling lines.