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Stick a Fork in this Congress: It's Done Until Midterms

How can Congress get anything done for the rest of the year when the House has decided to sue the presiden
The leadership office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is closed on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 11, 2014, the morning after a stunning political defeat by a tea party challenger in the Virginia primary. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Stick a fork in this Congress; it’s done at least until the midterms (and maybe until Jan. 2017)

Mark yesterday, June 25, on your calendars: It was the day Congress all but closed up shop to focus on the midterms -- after House Speaker John Boehner announced he would introduce legislation next month to authorize a lawsuit against President Obama over his executive actions in office. “President Obama has circumvented the Congress through executive action, creating his own laws and excusing himself from executing statutes he is sworn to enforce,” he wrote. Tellingly, Boehner’s letter didn’t cite a specific example of illegal or unconstitutional executive action, but his aides say the suit will likely focus on the health-care laws and energy regulations. But how do you expect Congress to get anything done for the rest of the year when the House has decided to sue the president? Immigration reform? Forget about it (and it was already on life support). Any other big items? Done. Of course, there’s always the possibility that SOMETHING might take place during the lame duck. But only the stuff that HAS to get done to avoid operational shutdowns. Yet for now, House Republicans have signaled they’re done working with the White House and Democrats. And the White House and Dems are pretty much saying the same thing. “I’m not sure an announcement that House Republicans are preparing a taxpayer-funded lawsuit against the president for doing his job is going to be warmly received by the American public,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said yesterday.

Firing up conservatives before the elections

Of course, we get why Boehner and House Republicans have decided to file a lawsuit against the president. With just 121 bills becoming law in the entire 113th Congress (compared with 136 at this point in the historically unproductive 112th Congress), they need something to show their constituents and base voters back home. “See, we’re standing up to the president,” they can say. Indeed, GOP aides tell us that Republican constituents have been demanding that their members take action against Obama for some time – many of them want impeachment, which of course, politically, is something the House GOP leadership knows is political toxic. Still, given how political and contradictory the lawsuit is -- Obama has issued executive orders at a slower rate than any president since Grover Cleveland, and Boehner himself embraced George W. Bush’s executive action on stem-cell research -- it could still have legs, setting up a major clash between the executive and legislative branches that could be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Then again, it’s not exactly clear the lawsuit would get there. “The House would need to establish that it has the standing to bring the case, which usually requires showing that the plaintiffs have suffered a specific personal injury,” the New York Times says. “Courts have also generally been reluctant to intervene in separation-of-powers disputes between the executive and legislative branches of government, preferring to let them work out such questions using constitutional tools.” By the way, the House does have recourse on its own; it’s called impeachment, which means their claim that they don’t have any other avenue to go, other than the courts, might be yet another reason the judiciary branch decides to punt.

Tea Party might be losing on the campaign trail, but it’s winning on Capitol Hill

While the lawsuit move will certainly fire up conservative voters almost four months out until the midterms, it does come at a risk for Republicans. With a summer that’s going to be dominated by hearings on Benghazi and the IRS -- and now with a vote on this lawsuit coming next month -- non-base voters can legitimately ask: What are you doing to improve our lives, help the economy, and make sure we have extra money in our pockets? (House Republicans would respond that they’ve passed their own legislation on these matters, and the Senate and White House have failed to act on them. But that’s just one part of legislating in divided government. If you’re going to pass legislation into law, you’ve got to work with the opposition party and its leaders.) One other important point here: While the establishment has certainly beaten back the Tea Party on the campaign trail this year, the Tea Party is winning on Capitol Hill. This lawsuit is just one example. “Republican Sen. Thad Cochran's runoff victory Tuesday exposed the limits of tea-party power at the polls, but conservative activists retain considerable influence in Congress as they fight the Export-Import Bank, an immigration law overhaul and higher taxes to repair bridges and roads,” the Wall Street Journal’s Patrick O’Connor writes. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent says the same: “[O]n many key issues, the business community is getting nothing for its investment in the GOP establishment’s picks.”

One-year anniversary of immigration bill passing Senate is coming up

Speaking of immigration, the one-year anniversary of the “Gang of Eight” legislation’s passage through the Senate will take place tomorrow, on June 27. House and Senate Democratic leaders will be holding a news conference today at 11:30 am ET to mark this anniversary -- and call on House Republicans to take action on immigration reform. It’s quite remarkable how far away immigration reform looks today than it did one year ago…

One-year anniversary of Wendy Davis’ filibuster

Speaking of anniversaries, yesterday was the one-year anniversary of Wendy Davis’ marathon filibuster against anti-abortion legislation. But as we noted last week, it’s worth observing how much Davis -- and her gubernatorial campaign -- have faded given Texas’ red-state reality. A year later, Davis isn’t the political star she was in 2013.

Hillary: “My husband was very sweet, but I don’t need anybody to defend my record; I think my record speaks for itself

In her interview with PBS’ Gwen Ifill, Hillary Clinton responded to the controversy over her “dead broke” comments. “Well, I shouldn’t have said the five or so words that I said, but my inartful use of those few words doesn’t change who I am, what I’ve stood for my entire life, what I stand for today. Bill and I have had terrific opportunities, both of us, you know, have worked hard, but we’ve been grateful for everything that we’ve been able to achieve, and sadly that’s just not true for most Americans today,” she said. Clinton also said it’s a “false equivalency” to compare her to Mitt Romney. “[F]rankly as I travelled around as Secretary of State, as I write in the book, part of what I was trying to do was to figure out ways to create more jobs at home, by standing up against the unfair competition and the barriers to American businesses, that hurt American workers.” And she said she didn’t need her husband, Bill, defending her. “My husband was very sweet today, but I don’t need anybody to defend my record, I think my record speaks for itself.”

Lindsey Graham to get another opponent for the fall?

The Charleston Post and Courier: “Thomas Ravenel confirmed Wednesday he is out collecting signatures to get on the November ballot for U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham. Ravenel, 51, needs the signatures of 10,000 registered voters to get on the ballot…He has until July 15 to turn the signatures in to the state Election Commission. Also on the ballot is Democrat Brad Hutto, a state senator from Orangeburg. Ravenel's first career in South Carolina politics ended when he was caught in a federal cocaine bust. This year he starred in the Bravo network's Charleston-based reality show, ‘Southern Charm.’”

Susan Collins becomes fourth GOP senator to back gay marriage

Finally, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has become the fourth Senate Republican to back gay marriage, following Sens. Rob Portman, Mark Kirk, and Lisa Murkowski. "A number of states, including my home state of Maine, have now legalized same-sex marriage, and I agree with that decision,” Collins said in a statement, per the Washington Post. Notably, conservative Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) also said this earlier in the week: “[I]f the voters decide that they want gay marriage, I'm not going to oppose it."

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