WASHINGTON - A sharply divided House approved a Republican plan Wednesday to launch a campaign-season lawsuit against President Barack Obama, accusing him of exceeding the bounds of his constitutional authority. Obama and other Democrats derided the effort as a stunt aimed at tossing political red meat to conservative voters.
Just a day before lawmakers were to begin a five-week summer recess, debate over the proposed lawsuit underscored the harshly partisan tone that has dominated the current Congress almost from its start in January 2013.
The vote to sue Obama was 225 to 201. Five conservative Republicans voted with Democrats in opposing the lawsuit: Reps. Paul Broun of Georgia, Scott Garrett of New Jersey, Walter Jones of North Carolina, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Steve Stockman of Texas. No Democrats voted for it.
Republicans said the legal action, focusing on Obama's implementation of his prized health care overhaul, was designed to prevent a further presidential power grab and his deciding unilaterally how to enforce laws.
"No member needs to be reminded about the bonds of trust that have been frayed or the damage that's already been done to our economy and to our people," declared House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change?"
Republicans also scoffed at Democratic claims that the lawsuit would be a waste of taxpayers' money.
"What price do you place on the continuation of our system of checks and balances? What price do you put on the Constitution of the United States?" said Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich. "My answer to each is 'priceless."'
Democrats said the lawsuit would go nowhere and was designed only to encourage conservatives to vote in this November's congressional elections. They also warned repeatedly that it could be a precursor of a more drastic GOP effort. Said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.: "The lawsuit is a drumbeat pushing members of the Republican Party to impeachment."
In fact, Democrats already are using that argument to mine campaign contributions. House Democrats emailed one fundraising solicitation as debate was underway and another moments after the vote.
"The GOP is chomping at the bit to impeach the president," they wrote. "We've got to get the president's back."
Some prominent conservatives including former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin have called for Obama's impeachment, and some House GOP lawmakers have not ruled it out. Boehner has said he has no such plans and has called Democratic impeachment talk a "scam" to raise money.
"Impeachment is off the table. Why hasn't the speaker said that," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
On the road in Kansas City, Missouri, Obama cast the lawsuit as a "political stunt" and a distraction from the public's priorities. "Every vote they're taking like that means a vote they're not taking to actually help you," he told his audience. He urged Republicans to "stop just hating all the time."
By suing Obama to demand that he carry out specific provisions of the 2010 health care overhaul, House Republicans would be asking the courts to hold him to the letter of a law that they all opposed and that the House has voted over 50 times to dismantle.