Has President Obama’s impunity come to an end?
After five years of his flouting the letter and spirit of the law in an increasingly brazen fashion, congressional Republicans have been starting to ramp up their rhetoric about Obama’s lawlessness, their most concerted effort on the issue to date.
Several new reports from top Republicans underscore the breadth of Obama’s executive overreach. Viewed comprehensively, it involves laws ranging from healthcare to immigration to privacy to technology to social issues to national security matters and more. Scandals like Benghazi, Operation Fast and Furious, the IRS targeting of conservative groups, NSA spying, CIA spying on Congress, the Delphi pensions scandal, the auto bailout and others have many unresolved questions – and unmet document and information demands.
Last week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor re-released his 33-page October 2012 report detailing 40 separate examples of “the break-down in the rule of law under the Obama Administration.” This time, Cantor added a nine-page addendum with scores more examples of lawlessness of the administration.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has also issued a three-part series of reports on the matter called “The Legal Limit,” which totals 26 pages of examples of Obama’s lawlessness, legal analysis and details of how courts have rejected the Department of Justice (DOJ) explanations from Attorney General Eric Holder for the Obama power grabs. In his first report, for instance, Cruz details nine cases the DOJ lost in which the Obama administration was seeking–but ultimately failed to achieve–more power.
“If the Department of Justice had won these cases, the federal government would be able to electronically track all of our movements, fine us without a fair hearing, dictate who churches choose as ministers, displace state laws based on the President’s whims, bring debilitating lawsuits against individuals based on events that occurred years ago, and destroy a person’s private property without just compensation,” Cruz wrote about them.
A major focus of Cantor’s report is on the administration’s rewriting of Obamacare. With regard to the president’s signature legislation, Cantor writes that the administration “has engaged in a series of ad-hoc announcements that ignore statutory deadlines, waive unwaivable provisions of the law, and even create benefits not authorized in law.”
In 2013 and 2014 alone, Cantor’s report addendum lists 18 examples in which the administration has violated Obamacare as written and passed by Congress.
Obamacare is hardly the only law, however, with which the Obama administration is testing its executive powers. Another area of public policy the administration has heavily leaned on executive authority is with regard to immigration policy.
In Cantor’s original 2012 report, he cited one of the clearest examples of Obama’s executive power grab on immigration: when the president in summer 2012, in a Rose Garden speech alongside then Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, used executive authority to create the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program which granted executive amnesty to illegal aliens who say they were minors when they entered the country. Cantor also cited the so-called “Morton memos,” that were written in 2011 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director John Morton and established the administration’s use of “prosecutorial discretion” to allow illegal aliens to remain in the United States.
“While the use of prosecutorial discretion is not new, there is a significant difference between its previous narrow application and the establishment of a formal process to systematically, on an ongoing basis, block illegal aliens from being placed into removal proceedings, stop already-initiated removal proceedings, and end deportations for potentially large numbers of criminal aliens,” Cantor wrote about the Morton memos.
Another 16-page document from Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R-AL) office details the Obama administration’s executive power grabs on immigration policy from January 2009 through the end of 2013. That document details, through a timeline, more than 70 instances in which the Obama administration flouted the law on immigration matters. That does not include, however, the president’s latest orders to new DHS secretary Jeh Johnson to review immigration law enforcement practices to make them more “humane” for illegal aliens.
Other examples Cantor cites in his report and its addendum of the Obama administration ignoring the law include: the waiving of statutory work requirements from the Bill Clinton-Newt Gingrich welfare reform of 1996, the dismantling of longstanding coal regulations, the creation of government programs that Congress had not authorized, the president’s “recess” appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) made while the Senate was not technically in recess, the NLRB’s and National Mediation Board’s (NMB) changing of laws relating to unionization and using an executive order to establish a regulatory body that oversees the oceans with a new “National Ocean Policy,” something that is not provided for in statute.
Adding fuel to this fire are the administration’s burgeoning scandals like the president’s use of executive privilege to withhold Operation Fast and Furious documents from Congress–which is being fought out in court right now–the concerns over the FBI’s role in outing former CIA director David Petraeus’ extramarital affair as the Benghazi terrorist attack scandal rages, the administration’s continued refusal to provide all documents relating to the Delphi pension scandal to Congress, the ongoing efforts by the IRS’s Lois Lerner to avoid congressional testimony on her role in targeting conservative groups with the tax agency’s power or the latest allegations that the CIA was spying on Congress, something Politico’s Josh Gerstein wrote was similar to the Fast and Furious scandal.
Cantor’s report’s re-release coincided with the passage out of the House of a pair of bills aimed at curbing executive overreach. The Faithful Executive of the Law Act from Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and the ENFORCE The Law Act from Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) both passed the House last week, and each are aimed at stopping the president’s power grabs.
These bills are dead on arrival in Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Senate, but the renewed focus from Republicans on the issue represents what could be the biggest narrative of this administration: Obama’s lawlessness. If Republicans take back the Senate in November, that pressure on the administration would all but certainly increase even more moving into the final years of the Obama presidency.