All the president's enablers

Call it too another disturbing reality of the Obama era. In the history of this country, there was one thing on which Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate, could regularly agree: Nobody messes with Congress’s powers. Political parties were happy to rally votes for a president’s agenda, to slam his opponents, to excuse his failings. But should that president step on Congress’s size 12 toes, all partisan bets were off.

Andrew Johnson was impeached by nearly two-thirds of the House for the “high crimes and misdemeanors” of violating a controversial law that the House had passed. Theodore Roosevelt’s regulatory reaches were bitterly opposed by conservatives in his party. The Republican speaker, Joseph Gurney Cannon, famously complained of the Rough Rider: “That fellow at the other end of the avenue wants everything from the birth of Christ to the death of the devil.” When FDR announced his court-packing plan, it was a Democrat, Henry Ashurst, who labeled it a “prelude to tyranny” and delayed the bill in the Senate for 165 days, contributing to its defeat.

This institutional cantankerousness was alive and well through the Bush era. In May 2006, the FBI raided the office of then-Democratic Rep. William Jefferson. Republican Speaker Denny Hastert and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a blistering joint statement denouncing it as a violation of the separation of powers. Republicans and Democrats spent much of the Bush years jointly attempting to force the president to give Congress more say in his wars and detention policies.