The Bush administration has expanded its' powers greatly under the "Unitary Executive" theory. As President, what specific steps would you take, how would you take them, and when would you take them, in order to roll back these unnecessary and unprecedented powers that the Executive Branch now claims to have?
That was the question I submitted to the YearlyKos President’s Forum, and will hopefully get the chance to ask one or more of the candidates (or Congressional officials) this question if it is not chosen for the Forum. Actually, this was also discussed in some detail in my diary yesterday – kicked off by a comment made by Mad Kossack. Mad Kossack indicated that those on the right should consider how happy they would be if a President Hillary Clinton has the same powers that Bush and his administration have so generously given to themselves.
And it goes much deeper than just Clinton, obviously. This issue was touched on a week or two back when Digby, thereisnospoon and I talked about impeachment. While the frame that Mad Kossack mentioned yesterday (and is linked above) is a great one to use when talking about this to our “counterparts”, it is a question that should be fully addressed by all Presidential candidates, Democratic and republican.
We have a right to know if a President Romney or Giuliani (gasp) would continue to assert Executive Privilege over questionably legal and national security matters. Whether signing statements will become the norm. What will happen to all of the laws that Bush issued a signing statement for. The Executive Orders that were signed allowing the Vice President to declassify information, or for the President to declassify information at will and without using the historically proper channels. To continue conducting itself in secrecy. And so on, and so on.
We also have a right to know whether a President Edwards, Obama, Clinton (or Richardson or Biden or anyone else) would repeal these Orders and other interpretations of the law. Would President Clinton defer to the judiciary or the legislature in matters that prior Presidents have? Would President Obama issue a signing statement for a law that would be passed by a republican controlled Congress if he didn’t agree with it? Would President Edwards have the US abide by the International Criminal Court?
I would hope that the answers to all of that are ones that run contrary to what this administration has asserted. I would think that the Democratic candidates would roll back these provisions. I would hope that the republican candidates would as well.
All that being said, I would expect the Democratic candidates to disavow the “Unitary Executive” principle and talk about how they would roll back this theory. Doing it with personal actions (i.e., not abusing the power) only is not nearly enough, as it will still keep these provisions in place. What we need to know is when and how they will roll back these provisions. We need to know what specific things they will do. We need to know what they find the most odious of the Unitary Executive principles and why. And we certainly need to know which of these principles they find acceptable, as well as why they are acceptable.
This country was founded and has functioned with checks and balances – with each branch being co-equal. This is obvious to us, and to many others in this country. Just because there is a Democratic President does NOT mean that it is in any way ok for the Executive Branch to have this amount of unchecked power - regardless of whether this power is used. The “Unitary Executive” theory was a prominent part of two administrations – both of them will (or have) gone down in history as a black eye for this country as well as a major overreach and rife with criminal behavior.
It has no place in our Government, regardless of whether it will be asserted. Many of these powers are now a part of the Executive Branch until they are repealed. Democrats should not have these powers available to them any more than the republicans should – even if this particular cast of Democrats will be more responsible with such powers. I don’t think that many around here will disagree with that sentiment.
Certainly, a vocal stance by the Democratic candidates on this matter can go a long way towards gaining the upper hand in the discourse as well as to show the seriousness of restoring the Constitution as rule of law in America. But it is more than an issue of framing. It is a matter of this country’s guiding principles.
Any future administration should roll back these powers. We have a right to know when and how they will be rolled back. Any candidate that firmly, specifically and comprehensively addresses this issue will go a long way towards getting my (and most likely many others’) vote.
Not to do so would be doing a disservice to the American people, and more importantly, the Constitution.