Report: Obama Eager for More Unilateral Executive Actions in Second Term

In a Newsweek article titled, "President Obama's Executive Power Grab," writers Andrew Romano and Daniel Klaidman write about the "Obama power play that could forever change the way Washington works" and how American could see more of it during a second term. 

After the debate on Monday, John McCain told Politico that he was "astonished" and "almost fell out of my chair when the president said, 'Don't worry, sequestration won't happen.'"

"He's not a dictator yet," McCain said after Monday night's debate. 

In the Newsweek article, the writers describe Obama as a president who got fed up with a Congress who would not bend to his will and decided on a strategy of: "if a legislative proposal fails, find an executive order or administrative directive to replace it."

As the authors note, what makes Obama's executive actions different from those of his predecessors is Obama, unlike Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression or George W. Bush after 9/11, "is not expanding executive power to meet the demands of an external crisis. Instead, he is counteracting a new pattern of partisan behavior—nonstop congressional obstruction—with a new, partisan pattern of his own."

And when Newsweek asked Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, whether Obama would continue to govern this way if he won a second term, Pfeiffer did not hesitate in answering, "Yeah."

Pfeiffer said Obama would "work with Congress where we can—and then be willing to act where they won’t. There are always things on that list.”

“The president’s hope is that he and Congress get another opportunity to work together, and they see the folly in their efforts to date,” Pfeiffer told the publication. “But what he’s not going to do, if Congress refuses to act, is sit on the sidelines and do nothing. That’s the path he’s taken.”

Consider these brazen examples of unilateral executive actions just in Obama's first term that Newsweek documented: 

  • Defense of Marriage Act: In February of 2011, Obama announced that his administration would stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court, sparking controversy about whether he was shirking his duty to faithfully execute the laws passed by Congress. 
  • Obama effectively implemented greenhouse-gas regulations stalled in the Senate by allowing the EPA to interpret existing law more broadly. 
  • In September, Obama issued waivers that released states from the onerous requirements of No Child Left Behind but bound them to the administration’s own education policies, which Congress had not passed.
  • Obama gutted the welfare reform law to make it easier for states to opt-out of the work requirements that made the law so successful when President Bill Clinton and his Republican Congress enacted the reform measure into law in the 1990s. 
  • And in early 2012 the president bypassed the usual confirmation process to make four recess appointments even though the Senate had been holding pro forma sessions to block them.
  • Obama bypassed Congress and unilaterally sent U.S. troops into Libya
  • Obama made recess appointments -- appointing Richard Cordray to be the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Chief along with three others -- when Congress was not in recess.

Democrats like Bill Clinton were urging Obama to go at it alone since the early days of his presidency. Clinton, Newsweek notes, suggested Obama raise the debt ceiling on his own, saying were he president, he would do so "without hesitation" and "force the courts to stop me.”

But after House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) called Obama and told him Republicans were not willing to raise taxes to come to an agreement on raising the debt-ceiling, Obama decided he had enough with Congress and, as the article points out, eleven months later, Obama made his announcement on the deferred action program for illegal immigrants. 

“The president’s directive is an affront to our system of representative government and the legislative process, and it’s an inappropriate use of executive power,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said. “We should all be appalled at how this plan has been carried out.”

Charles Tieger, a former lawyer for the House of Representatives, commented that Obama wasn't just "pushing the envelope" but was rather "in effect breaking out of the envelope." 

And University of Virginia presidential scholar Sidney Milkis commented that "Obama is the first president to use his unilateral powers so routinely, especially in the domestic sphere."

"And in some ways, that may be more insidious than what came before," he told Newsweek

The authors note that Republicans and Obama are putting down blueprints for how minority parties can obstruct and a president can get what he wants without Congress. They also note that "conservatives are already thinking about" using the precedent Obama has set by, for instance, directing "the IRS not to enforce [Obamacare’s] tax penalty against anybody who does not buy insurance,"

Obama, the authors note, has expressed concerns that his actions could effectively be a "loaded gun" he could leave for Republican administrations, but Obama alone was the one that put the bullets in the gun with his deliberate actions that have often flouted the Constitution. 


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