WASHINGTON -- A day before going on vacation and heading into the election season, Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a resolution Wednesday authorizing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to sue President Barack Obama for what they say has been inadequate enforcement of the health care law they oppose.
The suit would seek to make Obama strictly enforce the Affordable Care Act that Boehner has held some 50 votes to undermine or repeal. Republicans object that the Obama administration has delayed some parts of the law, particularly the mandate on employers who do not provide health care coverage.
The measure passed 225 to 201, with five Republicans joining Democrats to oppose the lawsuit.
"This isn't about Republicans and Democrats. It's about defending the Constitution that we swore an oath to uphold and acting decisively when it may be compromised," Boehner said shortly before his members granted him the power to sue. "No member of this body needs to be reminded what the Constitution states about the president's obligation to faithfully execute the laws of our nation. No member needs to be reminded of the bonds of trust that have been frayed or the damage that's already been done."
Some Republicans acknowledged the lawsuit's irony. But they argued that even though they oppose the law, it's the president's job to enforce it -- and he hasn't.
"President Obama has decided that he cannot be bothered with the separation of powers," said Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.). "He has bragged that if Congress will not accept his priorities he has a pen and a phone and he will make the law."
"If there were a Republican president doing the same thing, I would feel just as strongly. This is about the Constitution," said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.). "For too long, this body, under the leadership of both Democrats and Republicans, has ceded parts of our constitutional authority to the executive branch."
But Democrats hammered the vote, saying it was at best a political stunt that wastes time that could be much better spent, and at worst a step toward trying to impeach Obama. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) dubbed it "impeachment lite."
"We're going to adjourn tomorrow for five weeks, five weeks, leaving unfinished business here," said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), referring to Congress' annual August recess. "We have precious few hours remaining to act on the priorities of the American people and finish the can't-wait business for the Congress. So much needs to be done.
"Republicans are putting the special interests and the howls of impeachment-hungry extremists before the needs of the nation," Pelosi said. "The lawsuit is only the latest proof of House Republicans' contempt and disregard for the priorities of the American people."
Pelosi said Boehner should specifically say whether impeachment was off the table. Democrats mentioned the word "impeachment" more often than Republicans, and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) suggested that House leaders believed they were walking a narrow line to appease the "impeachment-hungry," while not alienating most Americans.
Slaughter pointed out that Republicans did not grant Democrats the traditional "motion to recommit," an option that the minority generally is allowed to change measures at the last second on the House floor. The motions are often stunts, and generally fail, but allow the minority to get votes on the record.
Slaughter said she asked why Democrats couldn't have the motion to recommit, and didn't get an answer. Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said: "The House Rules do not require that an MTR be provided for consideration of a simple resolution. House Rules require MTR on rules and joint resolutions."
But Slaughter suggested Republicans wanted to avoid any stunts Democrats might try.
"I think the reason is -- you know, being somewhat cynical, and I'll admit to that after what we've been through here, the cynic would say they don't want us to have a motion to recommit because our side might bring up a motion, which would be our privilege to do, that might put the Republican members on record on impeachment," Slaughter said.
There was no immediate timeline for when the lawsuit might be filed, but it is unlikely before the fall, as the November elections are approaching.
There have been other lawsuits against presidents by members of Congress. In 2006, Democrats sued President George W. Bush over the budget. And this year, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) sued over the health care law's effect on his staff. Both of those were tossed by judges who ruled that members of Congress lacked standing to sue, since none suffered actual injury.
This article has been updated to include Rep. Cohen's comment.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.