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Bucking Obama admin, Boehner, GOP take step to defend DOMA

From NBC's Shawna Thomas
The Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) announced the first step that will allow the House of Representatives to be party to the defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). 

"I will convene a meeting of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group for the purpose of initiating action by the House to defend this law of the United States," Boehner said in a statement.

This comes after the Justice Department announced last week that they would no longer uphold the constitutionality of DOMA in court but "work closely with the courts to ensure that Congress has a full and fair opportunity to participate in pending litigation."

According to House Rules, Boehner has the ability to direct the House Office of General Counsel in "legal assistance and representation" matters. But while his consultation with the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group -- which consists of House leadership, may only be a formality -- he plans on having the group vote on how to direct the General Counsel. Since that group is made of up the speaker, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), there is little doubt that the group will vote to defend the law.

Later in his statement, Boehner admonishes the Obama administration for moving forward with this issue during the uncertain economic climate.

"It is regrettable that the Obama administration has opened this divisive issue at a time when Americans want their leaders to focus on jobs and the challenges facing our economy," Boehner said.

"The constitutionality of this law should be determined by the courts -- not by the president unilaterally -- and this action by the House will ensure the matter is addressed in a manner consistent with our Constitution," Boehner added.

Though some would say Boehner's House has also not focused explicitly on jobs by giving support to Rep. Chris Smith's (R-NJ) bill that seeks to assure no federal funds are used to obtain an abortion. Earlier this year, Boehner gave Smith's bill the designation of H.R. 3 signaling it's legislative importance behind funding the government (H.R.1) and repealing health care (H.R.2).  

"Aside from standing up for a discriminatory law and failing to focus on jobs and the economy, this action places Republicans squarely on the wrong side of history and progress," Pelosi said in a statement in response. "In addition, this decision will burden the staff and monetary resources of the Office of the General Counsel, and given the complexity of these cases and the number of courts involved, it is likely this will cost the House hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars."

The group is scheduled to meet some time next week.

This announcement does avoid what could have been a nasty floor fight. The speaker had multiple options to choose from including having the whole House vote on whether to defend DOMA in court or not.

DOMA was signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton and states in part, "In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."