Suing the president?


For those keeping score, the House of Representatives won’t vote on comprehensive immigration reform in July, but will vote on a bill that would allow lawmakers to sue the president for failing to see that the laws are faithfully executed.

In other words, the House of Representatives will ignore an actual problem that it has the power and constitutional obligation to address in favor of a theoretical problem where its intended course of action is much more questionable.

On one side are more than 12 million illegal immigrants, real families and children, many of whom have been here for so long they are Americans in all but name. On the other, John Boehner, the Ohio Republican elected speaker of the House, whose desperate balancing act between tea party and establishment has led him to the edge of a political cliff.

Even members of Boehner’s own caucus are pushing him for reform. Rep. Joe Heck — who has been repeatedly criticized by Nevada Democrats for not doing enough on the issue — said last week he’s spoken repeatedly with Boehner, urging him to bring at least some elements of a bipartisan, Senate-passed immigration bill to the House floor for a vote. “I’m not going to say that we’ve pulled the plug. I still think there’s opportunity,” said Heck, R-Nev.

But Boehner seems to have pulled the plug. President Barack Obama said Boehner told him there will be no action on immigration reform this year. And Boehner’s June 25 memo to the House doesn’t exactly set the stage for bipartisan cooperation.

“For years, Americans have watched with concern as President Barack Obama has declined to faithfully execute the laws of our country — ignoring some statutes completely, selectively enforcing others and, at times, creating laws of his own,” Boehner wrote. “President Obama’s aggressive unilateralism has significant implications for our system of government, and it presents a clear challenge to our institution and its ability to effectively represent the people.”

Boehner’s remedy? “Legislation that would authorize the House of Representatives … to file suit in the coming weeks in an effort to compel the president to follow his oath of office and faithfully execute the laws of our country,” Boehner’s memo reads.

Even assuming this legislation were to pass, the hurdles are considerable. First, the House would have to establish standing to sue, which requires an actual controversy, a showing the House has a direct interest in that controversy, that the House has sustained or will sustain direct harm and that the matter is likely to be resolved by an action of the courts. Since Boehner did not specify which presidential actions he would challenge, it’s impossible to say how the House would meet this burden.

Ironically enough, Boehner ruled out the most obvious and appropriate remedy, if he really believes Obama has betrayed his oath of office: impeachment. “This is not about impeachment,” Boehner said. “This is about faithfully executing the laws of our country.”

Well, then, do it! Article II, Section 4 says the president shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. Instead of a constitutionally questionable, years-long lawsuit between branches, Boehner has a quick, direct method of addressing his constitutional concerns.

Is there some reason he might be reluctant to call for articles of impeachment?

President Obama has faced an unprecedented level of obstruction during his two terms. But he’s also shown a personal preference to avoid the hard work of compromising with Congress in favor of using executive powers. He’s unilaterally delayed parts of his health care law and made recess appointments when the Senate was not in recess, actions recently struck down by the Supreme Court.

But is he guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors”? Boehner needs to put up or shut up: Either impeach the president or stow the rhetoric and get back to work. America’s real problems need attention.

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.