The US House of Representatives voted 225-201 last week for a measure “providing for authority to initiate litigation for actions by the President or other executive branch officials inconsistent with their duties under the Constitution of the United States.”
Translation: House Republicans approved the use of public time and resources to support Speaker John Boehner’s strategy to stir up the conservative base with a lawsuit challenging President Obama’s authority to do what previous presidents have done.
So, despite the fact that a majority of Americans see the lawsuit as a “political stunt,” it will be pursued because, as House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan says, “We want to show that we’re not going to take this lying down.”
The timing of the vote—just before the August congressional break in a critical election year—certainly suggests that this lawsuit is more about politics than the Constitution. But political moves matter, especially at the presidential level. They matter electorally. And they matter from a policy standpoint.
So what’s significant here is the question of whether Obama will be intimidated by Boehner’s initiative.
The immediate answer would appear to be “no.”
Though they have many complaints—topped by the usual objections to implementation of the Affordable Care Act—Boehner’s minions have repeatedly raised particularly loud objections regarding the issuance of executive orders that that they see as too ambitious in their intention to protect the environment, aid vulnerable children and better the condition of workers. Yet, after the House voted to back Boehner, Obama issed another order.
In fact, he issued one of the most important orders of his presidency. The Fair and Safe Workplaces Order outlines a set of requirements that are designed to steer federal contracts toward companies that respect labor and civil rights laws.
The president’s order is important. “Currently, there are about 24,000 contractors doing business with the federal government, employing about 28 million workers,” explains Communications Workers of America president Larry Cohen. “By requiring prospective federal contractors to disclose labor law violations, including illegal discrimination and firing of workers who want to exercise their right to organize, more companies may decide that obeying the law and respecting workers’ rights is the smart move after all.”
While Obama’s order is significant, it is not radical—in practice or in the context of past presidential orders.