House Republicans Vote to Make It Easier to Sue the President

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 14 2014 10:00 AM

House Republicans Vote to Make It Easier to Sue the President

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Trey Gowdy has multiple microphones, just in case.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

On Wednesday afternoon, after doing some interviews for a story about the marijuana lobby's weeklong legislative push, I stopped to work in the House press gallery. Very audible, from the other side of the chamber's heavy wooden doors, was the voice of South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy (a one-time Slate diarist), who tends to speak as though the microphone is not working. None of the dozen-odd reporters in the room seemed to be paying heed; no one was in the press seating that overlooked the chamber.

But I see that the IJReview, the conservative BuzzFeed, quickly posted Gowdy's speech—and got an epic amount of traffic and social media shares. On other sites it's being referred to as a "Rick Santelli moment." What was Gowdy selling? The "Enforce the Law Act," introduced by Gowdy, Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, as a response to the administration's "lawlessness." (That's not a scare quote, that's the preferred term.) The meat of it:

Upon the adoption of a resolution of a House of Congress declaring that the President, the head of any department or agency of the United States, or any other officer or employee of the United States has established or implemented a formal or informal policy, practice, or procedure to refrain from enforcing, applying, following, or administering any provision of a Federal statute, rule, regulation, program, policy, or other law in violation of the requirement that the President take care that the laws be faithfully executed under Article II, section 3, clause 5, of the Constitution of the United States, that House is authorized to bring a civil action in accordance with subsection (c), and to seek relief pursuant to sections 2201 and 2202 of title 28, United States Code. A civil action brought pursuant to this subsection may be brought by a single House or both Houses of Congress jointly, if both Houses have adopted such a resolution.
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Basically it's a response to a few particular administration decisions—the decision not to enforce deportations of "DREAMers," the ACA delays—intended to free up Congress to sue. "If a president can change some laws, can he change all laws?" thundered Gowdy from the floor. "Can he change election laws? Can he change discrimination laws? Are there any laws under your theory that he has to enforce?"

As long as Democrats run the Senate, this is a dead letter. But Republicans are increasingly confident of winning the Senate. Scott Brown, who's actually one of the party's less likely winners*, gave up his 11-month Hamlet act yesterday and finally entered the race for Senate in New Hampshire. Republicans need only win six Senate seats (sounds like a lot, but there are that many tough races in Romney-voting states) to take the body for two years and pass a law like this.

*I liked the way a BBC reporter described the Democratic fear of Brown that persists despite his resounding 2012 loss: "If you get bit once by a shark, you'll probably be afraid of sharks."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.