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The Collective
Thursday, April 5, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

While it is hardly a new theme for me, I have been blogging quite a bit the last couple of days on the subject of inter-branch relations (specifically checks and balances in the context of executive-legislative relations). Posts on that topic include:

Partially inspired by this comment and my response to it, I have a question for the audience which is part snark and part quite serious: where will all the Republican defenders of unilateral executive power be when Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama is sitting in the White House (especially if the GOP regains control of one, or both, of the chambers of Congress)? (My guess is that Democratic President-especially Clinton-plus GOP Congress equals a lot of current pro-executive types having foxhole conversions to Congressional supremacism).

Another scenario: President Clinton wishes to appoint a new UN Ambassador and the minority Republicans strenuously object to the appointment on the basis that the nominee would threaten US security policies and undermine Republican goals on the war on terror. The Minority Leader and key Senate Republicans threaten a filibuster and Clinton withdraws the nomination, but the first time the Congress goes home for a break, she recess-appoints the former nominee to the position. The question: when such a scenario plays out, am I going to get tons of comments from loyal GOP readers defending President Clinton’s exercise of her executive power in the face of overly-partisan GOPers in the Senate? (My bet, btw, is that I will not).

I think it is time for some to admit that they are not defending some deeply held view of how the government should work in terms of legislative-executive relations, but rather admit that they simply like it when their side gets what it wants. Of course, such a view is one which eschews the rule of law in favor of the rule of men (at least, “rule of my guy”). This is problematic, in my view, for healthy democratic governance.

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8 Comments

  1. […] [Cross-posted from PoliBlog] […]

    Pingback by Political Mavens » A Question on Checks and Balances, Partisanship and Executive Power — Thursday, April 5, 2007 @ 11:07 am

  2. where will all the Republican defenders of unilateral executive power be when Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama is sitting in the White House?

    As I have noted, many of them will still be quite pleased, because a unilateral executive is more disposed to right-wing than to left-wing interests, even if held by a Democrat.

    (I know it is not the first time I have linked to this here, but it is quite relevant to this conversation.)

    Comment by MSS — Thursday, April 5, 2007 @ 11:56 am

  3. Many of us are not defending “unilateral executive power” but merely defending and advocating how power is shared between the branches of government. It’s not an all or nothing proposal but a belief that congress is getting too politicized and is abusing it’s supposed power. Advice and consent is not politicize and attack.

    I will defend the right of the executive to make those appointments and absent a clear defect in the nominee the Senate should confirm quickly. Now I’m sure some will say that “clear defect” is a subjective term that gives weasel room but I mean clear defect, not just wanting to enact administration policy. What clear defect did John Bolton have?

    The Republican goals on the war on terror are immaterial, what are the nation’s goals is the question. If a new administration wants to tackle the problem in a new way it should be allowed to do such. Whoever is POTUS next will have that mandate by winning the election just as Bush won the last election.

    The Senate should not filibuster nominees, period. Hold hearings and put it to a vote. That would certainly avoid recess appointments.

    I must ask, how can you be so sure this just defending “our guy” and not a belief based upon what we see as a good way to govern? What is the basis for that strong statement that undermines a person’s integrity? To make such bold predictions as “foxhole conversions” needs there needs to be some evidence of some sort.

    Accepting the results of elections is part of being a good citizen. Many of us realize what will happen if people choose not to accept those results and in fact have seen it from the left. It weakens our democracy and cheapens our votes.

    Accepting the results of an election means accepting the rule of those in power as long as the rule is lawful and constitutional. If you don’t like it there’s another election coming soon.

    I’ll conclude with no such admission that my stance is anything short of a well reasoned, logical position based on what is good for our country.

    Comment by Steven Plunk — Thursday, April 5, 2007 @ 11:58 am

  4. […] Other Bloggers Chime In: The Democratic Daily; Tennessee Guerilla Women; The Moderate Voice (Joe Gandelman); Bob Geiger; Liberal Values; PoliBlog; The Left Coaster; Drudge Retort (”Red Meat for Yellow Dogs”) Technorati Tags:  2008, Andrew Biggs, Bush, Bush Appointments, Capitalism, Congress, Conservatives, Corporatism, Current Events, De Regulation, Democrats, Elections, Free Markets, Headline News, Headlines, Impeach Bush, Impeachment, Liberals, Libertarians, Michael Bolton, Monopolies, News, News and Politics, Oligarchy, Politics, Rants, Regulation, Regulatory Affairs, Republicans, Sam Fox, Senate, Social Security, Susan E. Dudley, Swift Boat, Wal Mart, Walmart Bookmarkz […]

    Pingback by The Gun Toting Liberal™ — Thursday, April 5, 2007 @ 2:18 pm

  5. Steve Plunk writes: Many of us are not defending “unilateral executive power” but merely defending and advocating how power is shared between the branches of government.

    Simple question: which branch is behaving properly-the one that finds a way around checks and balances or the one that tries to assert its will within the constitutional order?

    Accepting the results of elections is part of being a good citizen. Many of us realize what will happen if people choose not to accept those results and in fact have seen it from the left. It weakens our democracy and cheapens our votes.

    By that logic, does that not mean that the now Democratically controlled Senate should have more sway over appointments under the constitutional order?

    You can’t simply assert that just executive elections matter.

    This is a key point and places directly into whether one really takes checks and balances seriously.

    I must ask, how can you be so sure this just defending “our guy” and not a belief based upon what we see as a good way to govern? What is the basis for that strong statement that undermines a person’s integrity? To make such bold predictions as “foxhole conversions” needs there needs to be some evidence of some sort.

    I am seeing it all around me-although I am not suggesting that you personally fall into this camp and nor should you construe the post as aimed specifically at you, although, as noted, our previous discussion was an inspiration (although not only our conservation).

    Two immediate examples come to mind: Mitch McConnell, when Clinton was President, wanted presidential advisers to testify before the Senate. Now that the Dems want Rove and friends to testify, he is against such testimony on the basis of executive privilege. Dobson was all up in arms about adultery when Clinton was President, but Newt goes on his show and asks forgiveness, and all it well.

    I would note: Republicans in the Senate did not like recess appointments when Clinton was in office, now they are ok (indeed, my premise is not predicate don imagination as much as it is on the past).

    And Democrats do the same thing, btw.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, April 5, 2007 @ 3:02 pm

  6. I’ll be the first to admit that I like watching President Bush game the system, and if a Democrat were to do the same, I’d get serious heartburn.

    The only way I can reconcile this is that I like to see politics played competently. Well, I like to see “my side” play competently.

    So, yes, when President Clinton (or President Obama) gets around Congress with a recess appointment, I’ll yell and scream. I will acknowledge that the tactic is Constitutional, but I’ll be mad. Then again, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    There’s an old line that a contract is only where you begin negotiations. While I don’t want to encourage Unconstitutional actions, I find politics most interesting when the various parties have to do informal things to get their way. That is, things not mentioned in the Constitution.

    Comment by Max Lybbert — Thursday, April 5, 2007 @ 3:07 pm

  7. Dr. Taylor,

    The constitution of the United States is certainly a document subject to interpretation. Your first question is put into absolute terms of one side cheating and the other playing by the rules. We both know it is neither. Both sides push the constitutional limits (as they should) in order to establish where the line of power will ultimately fall. If recess appointments are legal (which I believe is accepted fact) why would one consider it going around the checks and balances? The rules are the rules, playing by the rules is allowed.

    This constant struggle between the branches is something we should embrace. Like an adversarial relationship in the courtroom we can expect the best, most fair outcome.

    The logic of a Democratically controlled congress having more sway over appointments doesn’t make sense because the executive makes appointments under the constitution. The change in power in congress manifests itself by changing legislative priorities, the constitutional role of the congress. That is the place where the results of congressional elections is felt, not by weakening the elected POTUS’s constitutional powers. So you see I am not saying only presidential election matter.

    Your examples of McConnell and Dobson are understood. McConnell should change his position on the advisors testifying to congress. Dobson’s case is different.

    Christianity rests on a basic belief is confession, repentance, and forgiveness. Confessing one’s sins and repentance leads to forgiveness. If Newt took those steps Dobson had an obligation as clergy to forgive. I don’t. I will not support Newt for POTUS for that reason. I think he is the smartest of the bunch but you need more than smarts to lead a country.

    I don’t believe Republicans used the filibuster to stall confirmation votes and force recess appointments. That is a basic reason for the Republican’s change in policy. The Dems created a new kind of tactic requiring a response from the Republicans.

    I appreciate this kind of give and take. It’s nice to exchange ideas and mix it up a little knowing it’s with a gentleman who understands how to do it. Again I want to thank you for your work hosting this.

    Comment by Steven Plunk — Thursday, April 5, 2007 @ 6:22 pm

  8. In re: Dobson-forgiveness is one thing, endorsement (or semi-endorsement, anyway) yet another.

    My point about a Democratic Congress is that the Senate has a constitutional role in appointments. So while elections matter in terms of the exec, they matter as well for the legis. I am not saying that makes the legis supreme in these matters-far from it. However, they have a role and the elections underscore that role.

    I would gripe less about the recess appointments if the President hadn’t shown a general pattern of trying to avoid c&b’s-which is really the overall point.

    And yes, Republicans played games with Clinton’s appointees as well. Not necessarily all the same one (and in some cases different ones), but games nonetheless.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, April 5, 2007 @ 10:05 pm

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