Boehner Blames Obama…But What Is He Doing?

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

With a lawsuit in hand, Speaker of the House John Boehner has not shied away from criticizing President Barack Obama’s choices to take executive action. In a recent opinion piece for Politico Magazine, Boehner called for the president to work with Congress on immigration reform and tax reform rather than making “unilateral” decisions and rewriting the law. “President Obama faces a choice: He can work with Congress to deal with the tough issues, or he can go it alone and cement a legacy of increased polarization, partisanship and lawlessness,” Boehner wrote.

The call for bipartisan cooperation has been echoed back and forth between the speaker and the president for some time without any avail, as Congress remains in constant gridlock and the president continues to take executive action on issues. At the end of July, the House voted to authorize Boehner’s lawsuit against Obama, which posits that the president has overstepped the limits of presidential power established by the U.S. constitution. “Sue him. Impeach him. Really? Really? For what? You’re going to sue me for doing my job? OK. I mean, think about that. You’re going to use taxpayer money to sue me for doing my job while you don’t do your job,” Obama said in early July. “I’ve got a better idea — do something.”

And the House did do something. Obama had repeatedly expressed his frustration with the Republican-led House’s inability to pass an immigration reform bill more than a year after the Senate passed one. However, last week, when the house finally did pass a bill, Obama wasn’t happy with it and is still considering executive action. The $694 million border security bill garnered only one Democratic vote, as many House Democrats argued it was too quick to return children to dangerous situations in their countries. And the president himself called the bill “extreme” and “unworkable,” not what he’s looking for in a solution for a humanitarian crisis. 

“My preference would be an actual comprehensive immigration law, and we already have a bipartisan law that would solve a whole bunch of these problems,” Obama said, referencing last year’s Senate bill, at a press conference on Wednesday. “Until that happens, I’m going to have to make choices. That’s what I was elected to do.”

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

It’s still unclear exactly what plan Obama will choose to act unilaterally on (he’s discussed a limited refugee program), but he’s receiving critiques from more than just Boehner, though for different reasons. In a New York Times opinion piece, columnist Brendan Nyhan wrote that while Obama is pressured to make a decision as the crisis is worsening, he should be concerned with the political impact his choice will have right before midterm elections. “Such a broad executive action could provoke a backlash in the midterm elections that might be avoided with a move just a few months later,” he wrote.

As for the tax code, Boehner writes that Obama was on the same page as him regarding tax reform in 2011, when they almost agreed to what Boehner calls the “real solution,” which “weed out wasteful deductions, lower the tax rate, and create more American jobs.” Once Obama jumped off board, Boehner says Republicans continued to work on this reform. “Now, President Obama is hinting that he may act unilaterally in an attempt to supposedly reduce or prevent these so-called ‘tax inversions,’” Boehner wrote. “Such a move sounds politically appealing, but anything truly effective would exceed his executive authority. The president cannot simply re-write the tax code himself.”

The hints Boehner is referring to are Obama’s comments Wednesday at a press conference, when he said that he was reviewing his options to act without Congress to reform the tax code, in order to stop the common practice of companies reincorporating overseas to avoid paying billions of dollars in taxes. While Obama said he would prefer to sign legislation into law, just as with immigration reform, it’s unlikely such legislation will exist before the midterm elections, leaving Obama to repeat familiar rhetoric to defend his executive actions: “The American people don’t want me just standing around twiddling my thumbs and waiting for Congress to get something done.”

With midterms only getting closer, though, it continues to feel more and more unlikely that either side of the aisle or the president will yield. And Boehner’s hopes of Obama working with Congress to “begin to rebuild the tattered bonds of trust between the American people and their government” will most likely remain nothing more than that. 

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