WASHINGTON — Efforts by congressional Republicans to rein in what they say are the Obama administration‘s administrative and political excesses played out in simultaneous hearings Wednesday, further highlighting how election-year politics are overtaking legislative business on Capitol Hill.
The first hearing, by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was quickly adjourned after the administration refused to allow testimony from David Simas, the White House political director, who had been called under a Republican subpoena to address questions about Democratic campaign activities.
The second — a debate in the House Rules Committee over the merits of a lawsuit that House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, plans to file against President Barack Obama — exposed simmering partisan tensions, as Democrats used the occasion to ridicule the speaker’s move as a hollow ruse.
“We have seen subpoena after subpoena after subpoena, witch hunt after witch hunt,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. “The American people should sue the House leadership for emotional pain and suffering.”
The Rules panel’s Republican members, and the legal experts they called to defend their case, were pressed to explain what appears to be the biggest problem with the House‘s filing a lawsuit against a president: the need to prove that the chamber has somehow been injured by the president’s actions.
The speaker has said the suit will focus on changes that Mr. Obama made to the health care law — such as delaying the date that a key part of it takes effect — that Republicans believe should have been left to Congress.
Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, the committee chairman, described an “unwarranted, ongoing shift of power in favor of the executive branch” under Mr. Obama, and said the House had a constitutional obligation to stop what he called the erosion of the separation of powers that the Constitution is supposed to provide. “My fear is that the nation is facing the exact threat that the Constitution was designed to avoid,” he said.
Democrats have balked. Mr. Obama has scoffed that the suit is a “stunt.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Republicans’ case was not even fit for Judge Judy’s daytime-television courtroom.
“The lawsuit is clearly being used to appease members of the Republican Party who will not rest until President Obama is charged with articles of impeachment,” said New York Rep. Louise Slaughter, the committee’s senior Democrat. “This incredible waste of time will also be a colossal waste of money,” she added, pressing Republicans to reveal how much they were spending on the case.
Far from unanimously embracing the speaker’s lawsuit, some prominent Republicans have been fairly tepid in their support. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, this week said that while he believed in the lawsuit, he recognized that “in the end, it’s a symbolic gesture.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was indifferent when asked whether he thought the House lawsuit was the best approach. He noted that when Senate Republicans wanted to challenge Mr. Obama’s recess appointments, they had done so not on their own, but by signing onto a suit brought against the administration by a third party.
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, who was called to testify by Republicans, described an “uber presidency” that has evolved to become something far more powerful than the founders envisioned. “It is always tempting when one person steps forward and says they can get the job done alone,” he added, “That’s the siren’s call that our founders warned us to resist.”
Democrats and their constitutional experts pointed out that the lawsuit could have consequences that Republicans probably never intended. If the suit were successful in challenging the Obama administration’s move to delay parts of the Affordable Care Act, for instance, the result would be that the law is actually implemented more quickly.
Walter Dellinger, a witness for the Democrats and a former Clinton administration solicitor general, warned of the dangers of creating a federal judiciary that has too much authority to interfere with the executive and legislative branches. And he argued that allowing a suit such as Mr. Boehner’s could lead to a situation in which the president could turn around and sue Congress. “Allowing this kind of suit by the Congress every time [there is] a disagreement with how a president carried out the law would be a radical liberalization of the role that the judiciary had played,” he said.
Mr. Dellinger also noted that the House was pursuing this case on its own, without cooperation from the Senate, which he said undercut the notion that Congress as an institution had been wronged.United States government - Barack Obama - United States Congress - John Boehner - U.S. Republican Party - United States Senate - James McGovern - Mitch McConnell - Harry Reid - United States House of Representatives - John Cornyn - Judith Sheindlin - Pete Sessions - Louise Slaughter - Jonathan Turley - Virginia Foxx