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Jonathan Turley Sounds Off on the Expansion of Presidential Power Under Obama

Jonathan Turley Sounds Off on the Expansion of Presidential Power Under Obama

On Wednesday’s broadcast of Fox News Channel’s “The Kelly File,” constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley, who admits he supports many of President Barack Obama’s policies, warned of the concentration of power shifting to the executive branch of the federal government, especially under Obama.

Partial transcript as follows:

KELLY: Let me ask you about this because in that soundbite we played before we went to commercial, you said the framers would be horrified because everything they did was to create balance between the branches of government and we’ve lost that.

TURLEY: Well, I’m afraid it’s quite serious because the framers created a system that was designed to avoid one principle thing, the concentration of power in any one branch. Because that balancing between these branches in this fixed orbit is what not only gives stability to our system but it protects us against authoritarian power, it protects civil liberties from abuse. 

And what we’ve been seeing is the shift of gravity within that system in a very dangerous way that makes it unstable, and I think that’s what the president is doing. I think that we’ve become a nation of enablers. We are turning a blind eye to a fundamental change in our system. I think many people will come to loathe that they remained silent during this period.

KELLY: We heard a lot of objections when President Bush expanded the powers of the presidency from the left and from the media. They haven’t been raising the same objections now that we have a Democrat in the White House. And you say they do so at their own peril. 

TURLEY: I’m afraid this is beginning to border on a cult of personality for people on the left. I happen to agree with many of President Obama’s policies, but in our system it is often as important how you do something as what you do. 

And I think that many people will look back at this period in history and see nothing but confusion as to why people remained so silent when the president asserted these types of unilateral actions. You have a president who is claiming the right to basically rewrite or ignore or negate federal laws. That is a dangerous thing. It has nothing to do with the policies; it has to do with politics.

KELLY: Why is it so dangerous? What’ so bad that will come of this?

TURLEY: Well, you know, a system in which a single individual is allowed to rewrite legislation or ignore legislation is a system that borders on authoritarianism. I don’t believe that we are that system yet. But we cannot ignore that we’re beginning to ignore a system that is a pretense of democracy if a president is allowed to take a law and just simply say, ‘I’m going to ignore this,’ or, ‘I’m going to shift funds that weren’t appropriated by Congress into this area.’ 

The president’s State of the Union indicated this type of unilateralism that he has adopted as a policy. Now, many people view that as somehow empowering. In my view, it’s dangerous, that is what he is suggesting is to essentially put our system off line. This is not the first time that convenience has become the enemy of principle. But we’ve never seen it to this extent. 

KELLY: What is supposed to be done about it? You know, I know in your testimony before Congress you cited Ben Franklin who believed that the other branches would work in their own self interest to try to reign in a president who got drunk on his own power, or however you want to put it. You know, Congress doesn’t have — they can withdrawal money, they can move to impeach, they can file lawsuits –which they’ve done — I mean, what are they supposed to do?

TURLEY: Part of the problem really rests with the federal courts. For the last two decades, federal courts have been engaged in a policy of avoidance. They are not getting involved when the executive branch exceeds its powers, they’re just leaving it up to the branches. And often they say Congress has the power of the purse, Congress can simply restrict funds. 

But one of the complaints against President Obama is that very clearly dedicated funds in areas like healthcare, have been just shifted by the White House unilaterally to different areas. And the courts have adopted this avoidance policy. 

I am astonished by the degree of passivity in Congress, particularly by Democrats. You know, I first came to Congress when I was a young page and there were people that fiercely believed in the institution. It didn’t matter what party held the White House. But what we’re seeing now is the usurpation of authority that’s unprecedented in this country.

(h/t RCP Video)

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