Executive Action Takes Center Stage in DC Political Drama

Big news items out of Washington, DC this week as two long awaited actions came to a head with highly publicized announcements coming from both sides of the political aisle.  On Thursday night, President Obama took controversial executive action in an effort to clear America’s muddled political immigration picture, and on Friday morning Republicans finally filed the much talked-about lawsuit against the President for overreach of executive authority.

President Obama Takes Executive Action on Immigration

In a Thursday night address to the nation, President Obama announced a plan to overall American immigration policy by directing the Department of Justice to show discretion in pursuing undocumented immigrants.  Although the President acknowledged that the best method of addressing what called a “broken” immigration system is by bipartisan legislation, Mr. Obama felt he was compelled to issue a unilateral executive action to accomplish three primary objectives, saying:

  • First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over.
  • Second, I will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed.
  • Third, we’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country.

The President went on to elaborate on the third point, correctly identifying that is the most controversial of the issues he proposed.  Under the President’s plan, individuals who have lived in America for more than five years or have children who are legal residents will be able to come forward and receive temporary permission to live in the country without fear of deportation providing they pass a criminal background check and agree to pay taxes.  Noting that his policy was not “amnesty,” President Obama argued that his action was a “common sense” and “middle ground” approach that allowed qualifying immigrants to remain in the country to work and pay taxes.

Republican response predictably criticized the President’s action as overstepping his constitutional authority by issuing widespread reform without authorization from country.  Saying that the President “has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek,” House Speaker John Boehner claimed Mr. Obama’s unilateral action was “damaging the presidency itself.”  The President, who has authority to determine whether or not violations of the law – including violations of immigration law – are prosecuted by the DOJ, maintained that he was acting within his power and taking action that many Presidents, Democrat and Republican, have taken before.

House Files Long Anticipated Lawsuit against President Obama

Early on Friday morning, Speaker Boehner followed through with his much-discussed plan to file a lawsuit against the President for overstepping his executive authority.  The suit focuses primarily on Mr. Obama’s decision to make unilateral adjustments to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and claims that the President violated the constitution by adjusting the bill to meet political needs without Congressional approval.  Defending the complaint, Speaker Boehner wrote, “Time after time, the president has chosen to ignore the will of the American people and re-write federal law on his own without a vote of Congress. That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work.”

Specifically, the lawsuit claims that the President’s action amounted to a misappropriation of federal funds that were not authorized for health care by the House.  The suit also claims that Mr. Obama’s decision to twice delay enforcement of punitive actions against employers who do not provide health care coverage was impressible.  The lawsuit has been in limbo for several months as Speaker Boehner had a hard time finding attorneys willing to file the case before hiring Jonathan Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University.

Although addressing separate issues, the timing of the lawsuit is no coincidence as House Republicans look to reinforce their position on Mr. Obama’s tendency to avoid Congressional authorization by taking executive action.  The White House responded by saying, “Instead of passing legislation to help expand the middle class and grow the economy, Speaker Boehner and House Republicans are spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars pursuing a lawsuit that is without any sound legal basis.”

President Obama’s immigration announcement and Speaker Boehner’s lawsuit are a long way from final resolution, and both will not only address the specific political issue they target, but also help inform the appropriateness and constitutionality of executive Presidential action. 

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