Thursday, December 27, 2007

What "tools" will the future president willingly give back?

No one questions that President Bush has vastly expanded the Executive Branch’s powers by using signing statements (over 800), issuing executive orders to circumvent Congressional action, and even ignoring numerous laws.

What will the next president do with these increased powers?

John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation Magazine and author of The Genius of Impeachment - The Founders' Cure for Royalty, believes that the toolbox of powers assumed by President Bush and Vice President Cheney will be passed on to the future president; regardless of who wins in ’08, he/she is not likely to hand any tools back.

That’s why John Nichols supports impeachment. In his July 13th interview with Bill Moyers, Nichols said, “On January 20th, 2009, if George Bush and Dick Cheney are not appropriately held to account this administration will hand off a toolbox with more powers than any president has ever had, more powers than the founders could have imagined. And that box may be handed to Hillary Clinton or it may be handed to Mitt Romney or Barack Obama or someone else. But whoever gets it, one of the things we know about power is that people don't give away the tools. They don't give them up. The only way we take tools out of that box is if we sanction George Bush and Dick Cheney now and say the next president cannot govern as these men have."

In December 22nd, Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe published a study of the responses of 9 of the 12 top presidential candidates' responses to 12 questions about their positions on executive powers. Savage’s report is the most comprehensive effort to date to get the candidates to declare in specific terms what checks and balances they would respect, and whether they would reverse the Bush administration's legacy of expanded presidential powers.

Along with Savage’s article, you can read the candidates’ answers (Giuliani, Huckabee, and Thompson failed to respond) and also read these candidates’ answers by question.

Even though Rudy Giuliani didn’t respond to Savage’s questions, it is clear that he would expand presidential powers if elected president, as reported in "Rudy Awakening" in the November, 2007 issue of the Washington Monthly.

A day after Savage’s report was published, Glenn Greenwald zeroed in on Mitt Romney's responses to the 12 questions, describing his pursuit of power literally tyrannical.

Balkinization blogger Marty Lederman posted a brief summary of all the responsive candidates’ positions on December 22nd: Some highlights:

”On the Democratic side, Senators Clinton and Obama both disclaim any presidential authority to disregard statutes and treaties such as the torture act, FISA, statutes imposing troop limits, and the Geneva Conventions. Senators Biden and Dodd, and Governor Richardson, agree, except that Governor Richardson adds that the President can disregard statutory limits "in some limited circumstances, such as where it is necessary to protect the troops on the ground or to repel an attack not contemplated by the congressional directive." Senator Edwards strongly believes that President Bush should not have disregarded (or threatened to disregard) such laws; but he does not quite clearly answer the questions about constitutional power.

“As for the Republicans:”Senator McCain denies that the President has the constitutional power to violate the torture act, or FISA, or treaties, but in response to the question about a statute limiting troop deployment, he states that 'it's beyond Congress's authority to micromanage wars.' (On the other hand, he states categorically (and mistakenly) that 'I don't think the president has the right to disobey any law,' so his views on this question remain a bit uncertain.) McCain also denies that the President has the constitutional power to unilaterally bomb Iran, absent an imminent threat. Surprisingly (and in my view unfortunately), McCain states that he would not issue any signing statements.

"Ron Paul, true to his convictions, is libertarian across the board, which in this case means skeptical of executive power.

”Romney? Let's put it this way: If you've liked Dick Cheney and David Addington, you're gonna love Mitt Romney.”

I wonder if John Nichols is right, that no president willingly gives up increased powers. Since impeachment doesn’t have the active support of a majority of citizens, I guess we’ll find out when a new president is elected.

(toolbox: Electronic Toolbox)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Historian Arthur Schlesinger said the same thing in 1974, that is, if the Congress failed to impeach Nixon, the framework of the imperial presidency would remain available to future presidents.

He warned us, just as today we are being warned again as we hear Schlesinger say from his grave, "I told you so!"