WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans began muscling legislation through the House on Wednesday authorizing an election-year lawsuit asserting President Barack Obama has violated the Constitution by exceeding his executive powers.
Democrats branded it a political charade aimed at stirring up GOP voters for this fall's congressional elections, an effort to mollify conservatives who want Obama to be impeached — something House Speaker John Boehner says he has no plans to do.
Obama himself cast the lawsuit as a "political stunt" that is taking attention away from the public's priorities.
"Every vote they're taking like that means a vote they're not taking to actually help you," he told an audience in Kansas City, Missouri. "By the way, do you know who is paying for this suit they're going to file? You."
Taking on a sharply political tone, Obama urged Republicans to "stop just hating all the time." He said that while he knows they're unhappy that he's president, they only have to wait a few more years before they "can be mad at the next president."
On the House floor, Republicans argued that their planned legal action was warranted because Obama has violated his constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws they have passed. They say that instead, he has enforced laws as he wants to, dangerously shifting power to the presidency.
"The people's representatives will not turn a blind eye to the lawlessness of this president," said Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo. "We will do whatever it takes to hold him and future occupants of the Oval Office accountable."
Democrats saw the suit as yet another GOP assault on Obama.
"What is it about this president that will have our colleagues on the other side of the aisle resort to anything to de-legitimize him?" asked Rep. Donald Payne Jr., D-N.J.
Lawmakers were expected to be divided along party lines when the chamber voted on the measure late Wednesday.
Democrats dismissed the proposed lawsuit as a legally groundless exercise that could end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees and other expenses. But they've also turned it into a fundraising device, linking it to impeachment talk by conservatives including former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
Democrats have sent pleas for contributions to their supporters warning that the GOP is out to impeach Obama and ruin his presidency. Using that pitch, Democrats raised $1 million Monday, according to the head of the House Democratic campaign organization, Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y.
The lawsuit will focus on how Obama has carried out his health care overhaul, a 2010 law that is one of his most prized domestic achievements and that every GOP lawmaker opposed.
Republicans say Obama has illegally changed the law using executive actions. The White House and Democrats say he's acted legally and within the latitude he's empowered to use as chief executive.
In particular, Republicans have objected that Obama has twice delayed the law's so-called employer mandate, which he did under pressure from business groups. The provision requires companies with 50 or more employees working at least 30 hours weekly to offer health care coverage or pay fines, while businesses with fewer than 50 workers are exempt.
The requirement was initially to take effect this year. Now, companies with 50 to 99 employees have until 2016 to comply, while bigger companies have until next year.
Republicans say there are other examples of Obama exceeding his powers. These include failing to notify Congress in advance when he traded five Taliban members held at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the captive Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, and unilaterally preventing the deportation of some children who illegally immigrated to the U.S.
They also point to Obama's comments in January that 2014 would be a "year of action" to implement his priorities, which he said he would do "with or without Congress" by using his "pen and the phone."
"Such a shift in power should alarm members of both political parties because it threatens the very institution of the Congress," said a GOP-written report accompanying the legislation.
AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.