The imperial presidency
The trend in recent decades toward more power being concentrated in the executive branch has reached its high point in the Obama White House. Obama’s first three and a half years have resurrected the title “the imperial presidency,” a term that captures how much Obama’s presidency has exceeded its constitutional limits.
Obama has not hidden his imperialism. When Obama’s legislative agenda stalled , former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel promised that Obama would govern through “executive orders and directives to get the job done across a front of issues.”
“Now, whenever Congress refuses to act, Joe and I, we’re going to act,” Obama promised at a February 2012 event on the payroll tax cut extension. “In the months to come, wherever we have an opportunity, we’re going to take steps on our own to keep this economy moving.”
“What I’m not gonna do is wait for Congress,” Obama declared in an April interview on 60 Minutes when asked what he’d do if the Supreme Court overturned Obamacare.
Obama has been similarly dismissive of the U.S. Supreme Court, which he recently referred to as “an unelected group of people” who need to show “deference to democratically-elected legislatures” by upholding Obamacare or risk its “credibility.”
In his first week in office, Obama issued an executive order to close Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, another to restore taxpayer funding of overseas abortion groups and one more to lift a ban on taxpayer funding of research using stem cells from human embryos.
Later, when a federal judge struck down the stem cell executive order, Obama’s National Institutes of Health issued new guidelines for researchers that suggested they could basically ignore the judge’s ruling.
In another case of Obama’s abuse of his office, last week the president asserted executive privilege to shield Justice Department documents from disclosure after a congressional panel recommended that the House of Representative cite Attorney General Eric Holder for contempt related to his involvement in the botched gun-trafficking program “Fast and Furious.” But it’s clear executive privilege is trumped by Congress’s right to subpoena internal communications within an agency.
As a Washington Post editorial asserted “Congress’s authority to gather information is broad — as broad as its sweeping powers to legislate, spend public money and hold executive officials accountable through impeachment. …Absent very strong countervailing considerations — stronger than some of those the administration has asserted in this case — Congress is generally entitled to disclosure.”
Obama was elected promising to be America’s first post-partisan president. But instead of crossing the political aisle to work with Republicans, he has often bypassed Congress.
In 2011, Obama ordered the Department of Justice not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) against court challenges. Later that year the Department of Homeland Security announced it would no longer deport noncitizen spouses of homosexual Americans in direct contradiction to DOMA.
Obama’s Department of Education has granted waivers to ten states that free them from having to follow the requirements of No Child Left Behind.
Obama appointed dozens of “czars,” White House liaison officers who were neither elected nor confirmed and who were accountable only to the president.
When Obama’s cap-and-trade bill failed to pass the House, he ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the energy industry through bureaucratic fiat.
Obama’s had no luck passing immigration reform. And with sky-high unemployment among Hispanic Americans, he was desperate to do something to energize that key voting bloc. So he issued a memo earlier this month ordering DHS no longer to deport certain illegal immigrants.
The Dodd-Frank financial bill created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which is headed by a presidential appointee with unconstitutional power. As David Limbaugh explains in his new best-seller The Great Destroyer:
Obama didn’t want to wait on the Senate to confirm his appointee to run the CFPB, so he carved out a “special advisory role” at the bureau and appointed the anti-capitalist Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren to lead a team of thirty to forty people at the Department of Treasury. “This legalistic gambit serves as a fig leaf for a very different reality: Mr. Geithner will never reject any of Ms. Warren’s ‘advice,’” observes Yale Professor Bruce Ackerman. “The simple truth is that the Treasury secretary is being transformed into a rubber stamp for a White House staffer.”
When Warren left the CFPB, Obama nominated former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to replace her. When the Senate refused to confirm him, Obama took the unprecedented step of issuing a recess appointment—but at a time when Congress was actually still in session.
“I refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer,” Mr. Obama said in announcing Cordray as his pick “When Congress refuses to act and as a result hurts our economy and puts our people at risk, then I have an obligation as president to do what I can without them.”
“The president is using executive power to do things Congress has refused to do, and that does fit a disturbing pattern of expansion of executive power under President Obama,” Jonathan Turley, a liberal constitutional law scholar at George Washington University Law School, told Politico recently.
In many ways, President Obama has fulfilled the dream of an imperial presidency that Richard Nixon strove for. On everything from [DOMA] to the gaming laws, this is a president who is now functioning as a super legislator. He is effectively negating parts of the criminal code because he disagrees with them. That does go beyond the pale.
Obama has acted with little respect for the Constitution’s checks and balances and separation of powers. The result has been an unprecedented three and a half years of power grabs, executive orders, unconstitutional appointments and a series of veiled and not-so-veiled threats against the other branches of government.
Checks and balances and separation of powers are crucial components of limited government. But limited government and separation of powers are not concepts that the president respects.