The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday sought to determine whether President Barack Obama acted within his rights by suspending or waiving portions of the nation’s laws, but it came up with no definitive examples of wrongdoing on the president's part.
Instead, legal experts brought to the hearing by the committee of the Republican-controlled House provided some worst-case scenarios of what could happen if Obama, or any president for that matter, should continue ignoring laws passed by Congress.
The president has used his executive authority to implement “deferred action” to suspend the deportation of immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. He has also suspended for one year the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, so that businesses could have more time to effectively implement the law’s requirements.
Here are some of the most alarming statements made at an otherwise dry hearing:
Congress Becomes Less Relevant
There was some fear-mongering going on, as one expert expressed concern that unchecked presidential authority would weaken the legislative power.
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, told members of the committee that if one president unilaterally enforces laws, he will set a precedent for others to follow suit. He also said that with more federal agencies having increasing independence, and if the president’s power should expand, “Congress will be left like a Maginot Line on the constitutional landscape -- a sad relic of a once tripartite system of equal branches,” Turley said.
Turley later said, “This body is becoming less and less relevant.”
But Democrats fired back, claiming that if Congress is seen as irrelevant it is because members are wasting time with such hearings rather than legislating.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said the hearing equates to “rhetorical make-weights,” borrowing from the testimony of Simon Lazarus, the senior counsel to the Constitutional Accountability Center.
“To suggest that the reasons why this body may be on the verge of some basis of irrelevancy, which I take issue with, is because under the present House leadership we’ve passed no legislation for the president to be able to implement in the first place,” Jackson Lee said. She cited immigration reform, the budget, and sequester cuts among the issues Congress has failed to deal with.
“If we would simply do our job, the relevance to the American people would exceed our expectation,” she added. “As far as I’m concerned, the duty of the president is to be the ultimate giver of relief within the context of the Constitution and the necessary relief of the people who are begging for relief.”
The 113th Congress is on track to be the least productive ever, passing only 55 laws so far this year, according to the New York Times.
“Once again we are bloviating and not legislating in this Committee,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said. “We could be using this time to find common ground or even to have a strenuous and substantive debate on important public policy matters, but instead, we are offering empty assurances and shaping political messages for next fall. Rather than worrying about whether the president we know you distrust is enforcing our laws the way you would like him to, we could be making meaningful progress towards crafting and passing laws for the betterment of the American people.”
Obama Lawmaking Resembles A Monarchy
Some of the bluntest, even shocking, statements came from Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the libertarian think tank Cato Institute. Cannon knocked the president on several actions he has taken on Obamacare, which he said included issuing “blanket waivers” not authorized by the law and rewriting the law to spend taxpayers’ dollars in ways the law forbids him to.
The health policy expert said that because the president has been so unfaithful to the law, it’s no longer correct to say Obamacare is the law of the land.
“This method of lawmaking has more in common with monarchy than democracy or a constitutional republic,” he said.
Guaranteed To Continue Abuse
Cannon didn’t stop there. He went on to say that Obama’s failure, or the failure of any other president, to faithfully execute his or her constitutional duty shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“It is cause for even greater alarm, because it guarantees that presidents from both parties will replicate and even surpass the abuses of their predecessors as payback for past injustices. The result is that democracy and freedom will suffer no matter who occupies the Oval Office.”
Government Could Be Overthrown
Later in the hearing, Rep. Steven King, R-Iowa, later asked what the future of America looks like if upcoming executives overreach their power. Turley suggested there could be an “uber-presidency,” which he said would endanger individual liberty.
Another Georgetown University law professor, Nicholas Rosenkranz, said the ultimate check on presidential lawlessness is elections. But said Congress shouldn’t rule out impeachment “if you find that the president is willfully and repeatedly violating the Constitution.”
Cannon said, “There is one last thing to which the people can resort if the government does not respect the restraints the Constitution places on the government. Abraham Lincoln talked about our right to alter our government, or our revolutionary right to overthrow it. That is certainly something that no one wants to contemplate but ... if the people come to believe that the government is no longer constrained by the laws then they will conclude that neither are they. That is why it is a very, very dangerous sort of thing for the president to do -- to wantonly ignore the laws and to try to impose obligations on people that the legislature did not approve.”
Laura is a U.S. politics reporter for the International Business Times. She was always fascinated by the BBC World News each morning on the radio in Jamaica. That, and a love...