The House voted Wednesday to rebuke President Obama by passing a resolution authorizing a lawsuit against his use of executive power.
The 225-201 vote fell along party lines, with five Republicans voting against the measure. No Democrats supported it.
Republicans have been particularly angry over Obama’s decision to ignore several deadlines in the Affordable Care Act and his decision to defer the deportation of certain young people who illegally immigrated to the United States as children.
In the last week, lawmakers have been riled up by reports that immigration advocates and Democrats are pushing the administration to take additional executive actions to give more immigrants legal status.
Rather than seeking to impeach Obama, however, GOP leaders in the House rallied around the lawsuit as a way of bottling up grassroots anger that would not backfire on Republicans in an election year.
And Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerMarch is the biggest month for GOP in a decade House markup of ObamaCare repeal bill up in the air Conservatives to Congress: Get moving MORE (R-Ohio) has insisted he has no intention of moving an impeachment measure.
Boehner’s words have hardly been enough assurance for Democratic leaders, however, who said after Wednesday’s vote that the lawsuit is just the first step toward the GOP’s ultimate goal: the impeachment of Obama.
“This isn’t about this lawsuit. You don’t sue somebody unless you want to prove that they are wrong,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said during a press briefing in the Capitol. “This is about the road to impeachment. And if it is not, the Speaker has to say one simple sentence: ‘Impeachment is off the table.’
“That’s what I had to say in 2007,” Pelosi added, referring to her Speakership under President George W. Bush. “That’s what Speaker Boehner should be saying now.”
GOP leaders have bad memories of the impeachment trial of President Clinton, which helped Democrats gain congressional seats in the 1998 elections.
The lawsuit focuses on Obama’s decision to delay the healthcare law’s employer mandate, which requires employers with 50 or more workers to provide insurance coverage. The mandate was slated to originally take effect this year, but it has been pushed back for gradual implementation in 2015 and 2016.
Republicans argued the employer mandate delay was part of a pattern in which the Obama administration has selectively enforced the law.
“Branches of government have always attempted to exert their influence on the other branch. But the president has gone too far,” House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said.
Democrats have used the lawsuit to their advantage to boost fundraising ahead of the midterm elections. They have fundraised not only on the lawsuit, but on the idea that House Republicans actually want to impeach Obama.
“I wish I could say this was politics at its worst. But I have heard too many in the Republican majority raise the specter of impeachment,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
GOP leaders have repeatedly signaled impeaching Obama would be bad politics, and Boehner this week called it a “scam” drummed up by the White House.
Still, there are GOP voices who argue impeachment is the better path.
Rep. Walter Jones (N.C.), one of the five Republicans to oppose the lawsuit resolution, said the House should go further and initiate impeachment proceedings.
“Why not impeach instead of wasting $1 million to $2 million of the taxpayers’ money? … If you’re serious about this, use what the founders of the Constitution gave us,” Jones told The Hill.
Besides Jones, Paul Broun (Ga.), Scott Garrett (N.J.), Thomas Massie (Ky.) and Steve Stockman (Texas) opposed the measure.
Several House Republicans have said Obama deserves to be impeached, including Louie Gohmert (Texas), Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Randy Weber (Texas), Kerry Bentivolio (Mich.) and Stockman.
Some say it’s possible the issue could resurface if Republicans win the Senate majority this fall.
“We’ll wait until after November and see what happens, see what the American people do with their votes,” Weber said.
Other Republicans insisted that the lawsuit would help maintain the constitutional system of checks and balances.
“Our Founding Fathers understood the danger of having a president who not only enforced the laws, but made them,” Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Fla.) said. “No president may have both powers.”
It is unclear how much the lawsuit will cost. House Administration Committee Chairwoman Candice Miller (R-Mich.) said during floor debate that Republicans “don’t know yet” because contracts haven’t been finalized and the length of the litigation is unknown.
Democrats called on the GOP to provide an estimate of how much taxpayer money will be spent on moving the lawsuit through the judicial system.
“Cost is not a hypothetical question, because there are real consequences for this country,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee.
But Miller said the priority should be ensuring the executive branch follows the Constitution.
“What price do you put on the adherence to the rule of law?” Miller shot back at Democrats.
Mike Lillis and Bob Cusack contributed to this story.
This post was posted at 6:30 p.m. and updated at 8:33 p.m.