3 reasons John Boehner opted to sue Obama rather than impeach

While most Republicans favor impeachment, John Boehner recalls the losses that Republicans sustained in 1998 midterm elections, during the Clinton impeachment.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio strides to the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, as lawmakers prepared to move on legislation authorizing an election-year lawsuit against President Obama. The measure passed, 225 to 201, with all but five Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposed.

In a near party-line vote, House Republicans on Wednesday approved 225 to 201 a resolution to sue President Obama or other administration officials for actions “inconsistent with their duties under the Constitution.”

Translation: Republicans accuse the president of executive overreach – exceeding his constitutional powers and unlawfully going around Congress.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi calls the lawsuit "perilous and meritless." President Obama dismissed it as a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. "Stop being mad all the time. Stop just hating all the time. Come on," the president said during a speech in Kansas City, Mo., earlier in the day.

Some Republicans, such as former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, want the House to go further and impeach the president. A CNN poll last week shows that the majority of Republicans favor impeachment. So why would House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio opt for a lawsuit instead of impeachment?

Here are three reasons why:

A lawsuit is less disruptive. The 1998 impeachment of President Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice over the Monica Lewinsky scandal plunged Washington into a political crisis, dominated the headlines and kitchen table discussions for months, and cost the nation political stature on the world stage.

No “true conservative” should support impeachment “because that destabilizes the government,” Rep. Peter King (R) of New York told The Huffington Post earlier this month. A lawsuit is the “responsible” thing to do, Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin told reporters at a Monitor breakfast Wednesday.

When Nancy Pelosi (D) of California was speaker of the House, she faced pressure to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Bush for the war in Iraq. “I did not want to go down that path because of what it would mean for the American people,” she recalled at a press conference earlier this month.

A lawsuit has a better chance of success. Rather than throw a bucketful of complaints at the president – from failure to enforce immigration laws to overreach on greenhouse gas regulations – Republicans have narrowed their focus to the president’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

They believe this gives them a better chance of success, although many legal experts argue that the House has no legal standing to sue, because it’s hard to show how it, as an institution, has been harmed by the president’s actions. “The courts usually stay out of this kind of dispute,” wrote Paul Rothstein, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, in an e-mail when the suit was announced in June.

Still, the chance of success at a lawsuit beats the odds of removing the president from office, which is the point of impeachment. Yes, the GOP-controlled house could impeach Mr. Obama, but the Democrat-controlled Senate would never find him guilty or remove him from office. Even a GOP-controlled Senate acquitted Mr. Clinton in 1999, and he stayed in office.

Besides, would Republicans prefer a President Biden to a President Obama? The vice president is next in line should anything happen to the president.

A lawsuit is better politics.  The GOP base may favor impeachment, but a majority of Americans do not. Republicans can keep their base happy – and also cool down a boiling tea party – without suffering the political risk associated with impeachment.

Those who were around during Clinton’s impeachment – such as Mr. Boehner – remember that Democrats picked up five House seats in elections that year. That vote went against historic trends in which the sitting president’s party usually loses seats in midterm elections.

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