Keeping Grabby Hands at Bay
The New York Times editorial page on Sunday noticed that the Prez is in the midst of an unprecedented power grab, and The Times doesn't seem to like it. The editorial correctly recognizes the threat inherent in the White House's recent snubbing of Congressional subpoenas.
The White House's extreme position could lead to a constitutional crisis. If the executive branch refused to follow the law, Congress could use its own inherent contempt powers, in which it would level the charges itself and hold a trial. The much more reasonable route for everyone would be to proceed through the courts.
But then the writer makes a statement that is eminently reasonable but is, unfortunately, entirely beside the point.
This showdown between a Democratic Congress and a Republican president may look partisan, but it should not. In a year and a half, there could be a Democratic president, and such extreme claims of executive power would be just as disturbing if that chief executive made them.
There's no disputing that logic, but the situation would never arise. Republicans have proven themselves to be completely two-faced in this issue. They raised these same points when Clinton was president, but without missing a beat they're now completely oblivious to them. In case you need a reminder, Bob Geiger dug up a few choice quotes circa 1999 from currently seated senators who voted to impeach Clinton but so far haven't noticed any improprieties under Bush (Geiger was moved to post by the senators' silence on Scooter's commutation.) If a Democrat is inaugurated into the White House in eighteen months and then tries to build on Bush's precedents, there can be no doubt that these same senators won't lose a wink of sleep in jumping back on the bandwagon to use the "rule of law" as a club against the new administration.
So that leaves us with the Democrats. We have moved ahead in attempting to keep the Bushies in check, but the Democratic leadership isn't willing to play hardball, and the administration has taken full advantage of that fact. Harry Reid has certainly taken some bold steps in fighting back, but they've too often taken the form of one-off events. It was a dramatic move to force the Senate into a closed-door session to discuss intelligence surrounding the Iraq War, and last week's overnight session caught everybody's attention, as well. But then they go away. This week, Senator Russ Feingold announced that he planned to introduce a measure to censure the president. When asked about the idea by Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation, Reid replied:
I'm sure Russ Feingold will try to find a way to offer that amendment. The Republicans won't let us vote on it. They'll block it.
SCHIEFFER: So would you go along with it if they let you vote on it?
REID: Bob, frankly, we have so many other things to do. The president already has the mark of the American people that he's the worst president we've ever had, and I don't think we need a censure resolution in the Senate to prove that. We have to do…
SCHIEFFER: So you're not going along with it?
REID: Well, at this stage, Russ is going to have to make his case as to why we should do that rather than do our appropriation bills, finish the defense authorization bill, Homeland Security appropriation bill.
So, as far as Harry Reid is concerned, any kind of censure of the Prez is hard to reach. The Prez can play his brinksmanship, because he knows that the Dems are ultimately going to cave and avoid the issue. The Senate Judiciary Committee is making a lot of noise about their subpoenas being ignored, but in terms of actual action? Nothin'. We may have some sort of Constitutional crisis, incipient or otherwise, but so far the Dems aren't showing a lot of drive to defend that Constitution. They're going to have to actively fight back before they can have any hope of keeping the Prez in check.