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WASHINGTON / KANSAS CITY: President Barack Obama took his criticism of congressional Republicans to a higher pitch on Wednesday, imploring them to “stop just hatin’ all the time” as they voted to sue him over charges he has overstepped the bounds of his office.
In a party-line, 225-201 vote, the House of Representatives authorised the Republican-drafted lawsuit, which will focus on unilateral changes Obama has made to the Affordable Care Act, his signature health care law.
All Democrats and five Republicans opposed the measure.
On the House floor, Republican lawmakers reverently invoked America’s founders in accusing Obama of bypassing Congress.
“This isn’t about Republicans and Democrats, it’s about defending the Constitution that we swore an oath to uphold,” said House Speaker John Boehner.
But Obama, in a campaign-style speech, made fun of his political adversaries, laughing as he accused them of wasting time instead of addressing more pressing issues.
“Stop being mad all the time. Stop, stop, stop just hatin’ all the time,” he said of Republicans, drawing loud cheers from a raucous crowd of about 1,500 in an ornate theater in Kansas City.
Wednesday’s vote cemented the Republican lawsuit’s status as a lightning rod for months of bitter campaign rhetoric from both parties ahead of elections in November that will determine control of Congress next year.
Republicans have complained loudly that Obama has exercised “king-like” authority in taking executive actions ranging from raising the minimum wage for federal contractors to extending benefits to same-sex partners.
But they have narrowed the focus of their suit, to be filed later this summer, to Obamacare because they believe this has the best chance of succeeding in the federal court system.
Obama disparaged the lawsuit effort as nothing but election-year political theater and a distraction from issues such as highway construction or the southwestern border crisis.
“There’s a bunch of stuff that needs to get done,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think the main vote … that they’ve scheduled for today is whether or not they decide to sue me for doing my job.”
House Democrats said the suit would consume millions of dollars of taxpayer funds but would ultimately fail to undermine the president’s discretion in implementing laws.
“This a veiled attempt to impeach the president,” said Democratic Represntative Sheila Jackson-Lee, a Democrat.
Boehner this week tamped down talk that the lawsuit was a prelude to impeachment proceedings aimed at removing Obama from office.
He accused Democrats of trying to promote the idea to whip up anti-Republican sentiment and raise campaign funds.
Another influential Republican, Representative Paul Ryan, told reporters on Wedneseday that he backed the lawsuit because he believed it would show clear violations of law by Obama.
“The lawsuit has intellectual merit because we want to show that we’re not going to take this lying down,” Ryan said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
With Republicans in control of the House, Obama’s agenda has been thwarted by congressional gridlock, leaving him to take executive actions to make changes where he has the power to do so.
The president has been delivering variations of the fiery stump speech all summer as he tours the country trying to motivate Democrats – and wealthy donors – to get involved in November’s congressional elections in the hopes of thwarting a Republican takeover of the Senate.
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WASHINGTON / GAZA CITY: The United States confirmed it had restocked Israel’s supplies of ammunition, hours after finally sharpening its tone to condemn an attack on a UN school in Gaza.
Meanwhile, Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip killed seven people, medics said, bringing to 1,364 the Palestinian death toll from a bloody 24-day conflict.
The strikes followed one of the bloodiest days of Israel’s campaign against Gaza militants, with more than 100 people killed in a series of strikes and shellfire across the narrow coastal territory.
In two separate incidents on Wednesday, 16 people were killed when shells hit a UN school used for sheltering displaced Gazans, and 17 people died in shelling of a crowded marketplace.
But while both the White House and the State Department condemned the shelling of the UN-run school in the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, neither would assign blame to staunch US ally Israel.
“Obviously nothing justifies the killing of innocent civilians seeking shelter in a UN facility,” deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf acknowledged, in some of the toughest US comments since the start of the 23-day fighting in the Gaza Strip.
“Innocent Palestinians seeking refuge in these schools should not have shells dropped on them, should not come under attack.”
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA said Israeli forces had hit the school, which had been sheltering some 3,300 Gazans.
But despite heated exchanges with reporters, Harf stressed that “we don’t know for certain who shelled this school, we need to get all the facts.”
National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan also condemned “those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza” and warned of rising fears that thousands of Palestinians who have been told by Israel to leave their homes increasingly had nowhere to go in the blockaded narrow coastal strip.
US officials also warned that patience with “crazy” Israeli criticism of would-be-peacemaker John Kerry had snapped.
The Pentagon confirmed the Israeli military had requested additional ammunition to restock its dwindling supplies on July 20, with the US Defense Department approving the sale just three days later.
“The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.
“This defense sale is consistent with those objectives.”
Two of the requested munitions came from a little-known stockpile of ammunition stored by the US military on the ground in Israel for emergency use by the Jewish state. The War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition-Israel is estimated to be worth billion.
The decision to provide ammunition to Israel could fuel controversy, coming just as Washington expresses growing concern about the deaths of more than 1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians, since the Israeli operation began on July 8.
Kirby said Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel told his Israeli counterpart that the United States was concerned about the deadly consequences of the spiraling conflict, including a “worsening humanitarian situation” in Gaza, and called for a ceasefire and end to hostilities.
He also renewed calls for the disarmament of Gaza’s Hamas rulers and “all terrorist groups.”
Relations between Israel and its staunch ally the US have plunged in recent days after Kerry returned from a mission to the Middle East to try to broker a ceasefire between the Israelis and Hamas militants.
Anonymous Israeli officials have hit out at Kerry’s truce proposal, calling it “a strategic terrorist attack” and criticising it for being a “Hamas wish-list” including moves to lift a long-standing Israeli blockade of Gaza, while failing to address Israel’s security concerns, such as Hamas rocket fire and a network of underground tunnels.
Israeli air strikes kill 7
A pre-dawn Israeli air strike killed a man in the central town of Deir al-Balah, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.
He said two mid-morning strikes killed three more, one in the southern city of Rafah and another two in Deir al-Balah, also men.
A strike in the southern city of Khan Yunis killed another three people, Qudra said.
The conflict, which Israel launched from the air and sea on July 8 and then expanded into a ground offensive on July 17, has killed 1,364 Palestinians, most of them civilians.
Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have died in the fighting, and cross-border rocket fire has killed two Israeli civilians and a Thai migrant worker inside Israel.