There was never really a chance that President Barack Obama was going to sign a law like this, or that a Democrat-controlled Senate would even let it get that far. But the point was to force their hand on the issue, so that the public has the benefit of observing a president say that he thinks it is illegal to ask him to follow the law.
Which is exactly what has happened with the Obama administration issuing a veto threat for Rep. Trey Gowdy’s bill which would have required the executive branch to follow the law as written:
STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY
H.R. 4138 – Executive Needs to Faithfully Observe and Respect Congressional Enactments of the Law (ENFORCE the Law) Act of 2014
(Rep. Gowdy, R-South Carolina, and 11 cosponsors)
The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 4138 because it violates the separation of powers by purporting to permit the Congress to challenge in court the exercise by the President of one of his core constitutional functions – taking care that Federal laws are faithfully executed.
Congress ordinarily has the power to define the bounds of the Executive Branch’s enforcement authority under particular statutes, and persons who claim to be harmed by the Executive Branch’s actions may challenge them as inconsistent with the governing statute. But the power the bill purports to assign to Congress to sue the President over whether he has properly discharged his constitutional obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed exceeds constitutional limitations. Congress may not assign such power to itself, nor may it assign to the courts the task of resolving such generalized political disputes.
If the President were presented with H.R. 4138, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.
It’s interesting that the Obama administration hangs their hat on the “separation of powers” argument. As anyone who has ever taken a basic civics course knows, Congress makes the laws. The executive branch enforces them.
To be sure, the executive branch taking liberties with the law as written is not all that unusual. Republican and Democrats alike are guilty, though I’m not sure any past presidential administration (at least none in the last 30 years or so) have taken liberties to the exten the Obama administration has.
But setting aside partisan finger pointing over what Republican and Democrat presidents may or may not have done, can we not all agree that even presidents should follow the law? That all laws should be enforced? And that if we don’t like the enforcement of a law, we use the democratic process to modify or repeal it?