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Politically Punishing A President

gageskidmore / Flickr / Creative Commons

On July 30, the House of Representatives passed a resolution approving of Speaker John Boehner’s proposed lawsuit against President Barack Obama. This represented the first time in U.S. history that a chamber of Congress has endorsed a lawsuit against a president.

Historically, if Congress believed a sitting president engaged in unlawful behavior, it issued “articles of impeachment.” Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton have been the most recent targets of such punitive congressional action.

Many legal observers view the House’s July 30 vote as purely symbolic, with little hope of generating a successful outcome in the courts. In fact, President Obama, himself, appears totally unconcerned about being sued. As he laughingly told a crowd in Kansas City on the same day, the House GOP needed to “stop just hatin’ all the time.”

Although the House lawsuit against President Obama appears futile, some believe Republicans hope that this action will generate additional enthusiasm among likely GOP voters in the upcoming 2014 Congressional elections. Ironically, other commentators suggest that the lawsuit strategy may boomerang, causing an increase in Democratic turnout.

In the end, the GOP’s historic lawsuit appears to be yet another indication that contemporary American politics is characterized more by theatrical flourishes than by substantive discourse.

Robert E. Weems Jr. is the Willard W. Garvey Distinguished Professor of Business History at Wichita State University.