Via CNS, a perfect complement to this morning’s news of the umpteenth ass-covering ad hoc executive rule change to his pet boondoggle. (This little stand-up routine at DNC HQ was recorded on Friday evening, about an hour after he delivered his somber “there will be costs” statement on Ukraine.) Here’s the result of three years of education at Harvard Law plus several years spent lecturing students as a law prof at the University of Chicago: As long as the president’s trying to “fix things” — and “things” very much includes his party’s prospects in the next election — it’s absurd to hassle him over separation of powers. Which, I’m embarrassed to say, isn’t the first time he’s used that rationale. Remember?
[W]here Congress is unwilling to act, I will take whatever administrative steps that I can in order to do right by the American people.
And if Congress thinks that what I’ve done is inappropriate or wrong in some fashion, they’re free to make that case. But there’s not an action that I take that you don’t have some folks in Congress who say that I’m usurping my authority. Some of those folks think I usurp my authority by having the gall to win the presidency. And I don’t think that’s a secret. But ultimately, I’m not concerned about their opinions — very few of them, by the way, are lawyers, much less constitutional lawyers.
I am concerned about the folks who I spoke to today who are working really hard, are trying to figure out how they can send their kids to college, are trying to make sure that they can save for their retirement. And if I can take steps on their behalf, then I’m going to do so. And I would hope that more and more of Congress will say, you know what, since that’s our primary focus, we’re willing to work with you to advance those ideals. But I’m not just going to sit back if the only message from some of these folks is no on everything, and sit around and twiddle my thumbs for the next 1,200 days.
That’s the Obama rule on executive power grabs. If Congress won’t do what he wants and if he can semi-credibly defend his actions as “fixing something” or “doing right by the American people” (or the Libyan people, when it comes to intervening abroad without congressional authorization), he’s entitled to act. The chief limit on this rule is political, not legal: He’s held off on expanding his DREAM amnesty to the entire illegal population, ostensibly because he lacks authority but in reality because he’s nervous how it’ll play for Democrats in the midterms if he does it. If/when his political calculus changes, his calculus about his authority will too. It takes the fine mind of a constitutional lawyer, honed by decades of study, to find this much nuance in the constitutional limits on his own power. Can’t wait for Jonathan Turley’s next appearance before the House.
Exit question via my pal Karl: Remember when Obama denounced Bush’s executive signing statements as “a license to evade laws that the president does not like or as an end-run around provisions designed to foster accountability”? Since when is a president’s attempt to “fix things” objectionable?