Executive Action: It’s Only a Problem When President Obama Does It

Executive Action: It’s Only a Problem When President Obama Does It


Republicans are once again going to try to lay the groundwork for impeachment proceedings against a Democrat for acting on the power of the executive office. This is the end goal of Boehner’s “lawsuit”. They seem to have conveniently forgotten the pride they took in former President Bush’s unilateral, decider presidency.

Refusing to discuss their suddenly-found, alleged concern for democracy, Republicans instead claim that President Obama taking executive action makes him a hypocrite for condemning Bush for his use of signing statements.

However, Obama wasn’t criticizing merely the use of executive action, but the reasons for it and the abuse of it.

(Continued Below)

In 2006, Laurence H. Tribe writing about then President Bush’s use of signing statements explained for Boston.com, “It’s not the statements that are the true source of constitutional difficulty. On the contrary, signing statements, which a president can issue to indicate the way he intends to direct his administration to construe ambiguous statutes, are informative and constitutionally unobjectionable.” Tribe went on to explain that the challenge should be to the President for ignoring the law (as Bush did) or for harm that came to others as a result of it. He also pointed out that presidents should face the political music of a veto leading to an override rather than ignore a law.

An example of the kinds of things that Bush did that got Constitutional scholars up in arms:

In one frequently used phrase, George W. Bush has routinely asserted that he will not act contrary to the constitutional provisions that direct the president to “supervise the unitary executive branch.” This formulation can be found first in a signing statement of Ronald Reagan, and it was repeated several times by George H. W. Bush. Basically, Bush asserts that Congress cannot pass a law that undercuts the constitutionally granted authorities of the President.

Yeah. Well, that’s sort of like tweaking a law that benefits the people only not. See, one President used the powers to expand their own power and another is using the powers to do things like climate change.

The Boston Globe wrote that Bush had assumed the right to disobey more than 750 laws since he took office, “…declaring that he (Bush) has the power to set aside the laws when they conflict with his legal interpretation of the Constitution. The federal government is instructed to follow the statements when it enforces the laws.”

John W Dean, a lawyer who served as White House Counsel to United States President Richard Nixon, has pointed out that there are two metrics for measuring the use of signing statements: Both the number of them issued and the number of provisions within a bill that the President issues a statement about. It isn’t just the number of signing statements, but the challenges to the provisions with each law.

President Bush challenged 1,100 provisions of the law in his signing statements, which is more than all of his previous presidents combined. 78% of Bush’s signing statements raised constitutional objections compared to 18% for President Clinton, 47% for George H.W. Bush and 34% for Ronald Reagan.

Bush took the theory of the unitary executive to the extreme, pushing the boundaries until it overrode the checks and balances of the other branches of government. John W. Dean called this type of “presidential autocracy” the natural result of authoritarian conservatism.

While busting the myth that Obama is behaving like a dictator, we broke down the difference between the types of executive action taken,, “(I)n June of 2007 President Bush signed an executive order that banned federal funding of stem cell research while also declaring embryos to be human beings. In contrast, President Obama signed an executive order in November 2013 ordering federal government agencies to prepare for the impact of climate change.”

One of these things doesn’t belong with the other.

What makes Boehner’s announcement of a lawsuit against Obama even more egregious is the fact that many of the executive actions taken by this president were taken to get around the Republicans’ relentless refusal to legislate. President Obama is doing their jobs for them and now they’re going to sue him for it. It would be humorous if it weren’t a way to kill the Obama agenda that just so happens to be the only way to get anything done for the people.

Republicans will say that tweaking Obamacare and ordering a higher minimum wage for those workers under the purview of the executive branch are as partisan as Bush’s stem cell research kill, but President Obama was re-elected for his policies. It was a mandate, in fact, since Republicans made the last presidential election all about Obamacare and contempt for working Americans. But more to the point, Republicans are deliberately moving the goal post in order to avoid discussing the power Bush took for himself, and the many ways he limited the checks and balances inherent in our system of government.

The issue of expansion of powers of the executive office is a real one. With each presidency, the powers tend to expand more and not less. This isn’t good for democracy. However, it’s also not good for democracy when an entire party chooses to shut down the government and refuses to legislate out of pique for losing national elections. It’s particularly bad for democracy when those actions hurt the citizens of this country while protecting corporations.

It is for this reason that President Obama took to executive action — to go around the Do Nothings in order to accomplish pretty minor things for the people (as the power of his office is limited), and to tweak the implementation of Obamacare in terms of deadlines. Since it took Obama 6 years into his presidency to begin to utilize the power of the executive office and he only did so in order to get things moving that used to be bipartisan issues, I’d be willing to wager it weighed heavily upon him. He obviously had a goal of being one of the few presidents who didn’t expand the power of the office, though it’s fair to say he can still hold to that goal since it’s relative, given Bush’s autocratic abuse of the power.

Politicians aren’t known for their honesty or integrity, but what we are witnessing from this Republican Party is so unpatriotic and such a snub to our democratic process that it should be the scandal of the decade. Instead, our mainstream media will focus on the moss that might be growing on the trees in the forest that is bringing this country to her knees.

Additional Source: Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches,
John W Dean, September 11, 2007.

Recent posts on PoliticusUSA