Skip to main content

What's behind Boehner's nutty lawsuit threat

By Paul Begala
updated 11:49 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
John Boehner has been the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives since 2011, making him second in line for the presidency, behind the vice president. Look back at his career in politics so far. John Boehner has been the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives since 2011, making him second in line for the presidency, behind the vice president. Look back at his career in politics so far.
HIDE CAPTION
John Boehner's political career
John Boehner's political career
John Boehner's political career
John Boehner's political career
John Boehner's political career
John Boehner's political career
John Boehner's political career
John Boehner's political career
John Boehner's political career
John Boehner's political career
John Boehner's political career
John Boehner's political career
John Boehner's political career
John Boehner's political career
John Boehner's political career
John Boehner's political career
John Boehner's political career
John Boehner's political career
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Begala: Why is Boehner suing Obama in face of criticism? Because he may win
  • He sees hypocrisy in that Boehner has criticized frivolous lawsuits, backed Bush orders
  • Begala: Sue first, ask questions later stunt might find support from Supreme Court's right wing
  • He says if GOP can't move agenda or regain White House, maybe court will do heavy lifting

Editor's note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House. He is a consultant to the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- House Speaker John Boehner's threatened lawsuit against President Obama has elicited scorn from the right and blistering attacks from the left. So why is Boehner pursuing it? Perhaps because he thinks he just might win in the end.

As political stunts go, Boehner's is too transparent for my tastes. And I say this as a guy who has perpetrated some serious stunt work in my political career.

Paul Begala
Paul Begala

Boehner's not a bad guy. One gets the sense he'd rather be sharing Marlboros and merlot with Obama than taking him to court. But he is a SINO: Speaker in Name Only. The tea party is driving the GOP train these days, which explains the frequent train wrecks. So, perhaps to appease the tea party bosses, Boehner has decided to sue the President.

But appeasement never works. Highly influential conservative blogger and pundit Erick Erickson calls the Boehner lawsuit "taxpayer-funded political theater" and notes that some of Boehner's complaints about Obama are political, not legal or constitutional.

Opinion: Boehner, do your job instead

Then there's the small problem of hypocrisy. As the progressive group Americans United for Change notes in this clever ad, Boehner has long opposed citizens' rights to sue corporations over, say, defective products or gender discrimination in the workplace. He rails against "frivolous lawsuits" -- until he decides to file one.

A second way Boehner is being hypocritical is his support for robust executive authority when George W. Bush was exercising it. Bush issued far more executive orders than Obama, going so far as to use his executive authority to authorize waterboarding, which Sen. John McCain flatly describes as torture and a "violation of the Geneva Conventions."

So, to be clear: Dubya uses his executive authority more often -- including to turn Americans into torturers -- and Boehner goes along. But Obama uses his executive authority to give businesses more flexibility in complying with Obamacare or to extend family leave to gay couples, and Boehner literally wants to make a federal case of it.

One more sure sign that this is a political puppet show: It is not at all clear which executive actions Boehner's lawsuit would focus on, because he has not identified them, telling reporters, "When I make that decision, I'll let you know."

Boehner: Why we must now sue the President

Cutter: Suing Obama a waste of tax money
John Boehner defends plan to sue Obama
Boehner: Why we must sue the President

Now, here's the depressing part: Boehner's sue first, ask questions later strategy just might work. Not because the suit has merit but because the Supreme Court has several activist Republican justices. They recently rewrote the First Amendment to declare that corporations have souls and thus have freedom of religion. Soon, I expect them to grant sainthood to Koch Industries.

Obviously, I can't get into Boehner's head. It is entirely possible that there is no grand strategy here. Perhaps his lawsuit is just one strand of a handful of spaghetti he's throwing against the wall just to get through the day and survive the latest tea party onslaught. And yet, there is a chance this one strand will stick.

On the other hand, progressives would do well to assume there is a method to Boehner's madness. The court's right wing plays a long game. Perhaps realizing that shifting demographics and a divided GOP will make it difficult to put a Republican back in the White House, they may seize on Boehner's lawsuit and use it to further crimp the power of the chief executive.

Unable to marshal the votes to get their legislative agenda through the Senate and unable to earn the votes to recapture the White House, it may be that the Republicans' strategy for the foreseeable future is to ignore their losses at the ballot box and leave the heavy lifting to the one place where five Republican votes can cancel out tens of millions of Americans' votes: the Supreme Court.

Castellanos: Obama hasn't hit rock bottom yet

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:24 PM EDT, Sat September 20, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT