Commemorating 9/14

President Biden has chosen an apt date, the 20th anniversary of 9/11, to complete the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. Congress should do its part by commemorating another anniversary—September 14, 2001, the date on which the AUMF for the inchoate “war on terror” was passed—by withdrawing that authority. The loose and hasty AUMF, which legislators like Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia have challenged—with signals of interest from the White House—has been used to justify military operations far removed from 9/11, al Qaeda, or Afghanistan. It has become a blanket authority for any operation nominally connected with terrorism. Repealing the AUMF—and … Continue reading Commemorating 9/14

Conflict, Cooperation and the Separation of Powers

Three distinguished scholars of the presidency—John A. Dearborn, Desmond S. King and Stephen Skowronek—published an intriguing essay at The New York Times this morning about taming presidential power. Their case is that constitutional combat between Congress and the President favors executive power. Instead, they write, Congress should “assert its capacity to engage the president and the executive branch in ways that foster cooperation in issues of governance.” The authors note that Congressional attempts to play hardball on the separation of powers have tended to trigger backlashes: Presidents have responded by asserting executive power, and their control over the executive branch, more stridently, and the … Continue reading Conflict, Cooperation and the Separation of Powers

A Clarification on the Separation of Powers

I agreed with Ben’s essential point that within the separation of powers we can expect President Biden to have a somewhat different perspective on executive power than candidate Biden or, especially, Senator Biden. That point was about the institution shaping the occupant of the office. That’s embodied in Madison’s famous line about the interests of the office holder being connected to the “constitutional rights of the place.”  I am skeptical, however, that this understanding of the separation of powers captures our contemporary Congress. Ben takes heart that even while Republicans were reluctant to resist President Trump, the fact that they … Continue reading A Clarification on the Separation of Powers

Congress and Deliberation

Jack Rakove has a good piece in the Washington Post pointing out that the filibuster in the Senate does not induce deliberation. Instead, it has essentially become a supermajoritarian requirement to lawmaking giving us a Senate “that prefers parliamentary obstruction to constructive deliberation — something the “greatest deliberative body in the world” now seems incapable of doing.” This is not what James Madison had in mind. On that, Peter Wehner has a great essay that echoes much of what has been said here about representatives actually reasoning and thinking—deliberating about the public good—rather than simply being the mouthpieces of their constituents. As Wehner writes, … Continue reading Congress and Deliberation

Congress, Impeachment, and Constitutional Redemption

George Thomas is Wohlford Professor of American Political Institutions and Director of the Salvatori Center at Claremont McKenna College. On January 6th President Trump urged his supporters to violently storm Congress while it was in the process of formally counting the electoral votes that would recognize Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. Let’s be exquisitely clear about a few things. The President called for a violent attack on another branch of government. He did so in an effort, however feeble, to keep himself in power despite having lost the election. For the first time in American … Continue reading Congress, Impeachment, and Constitutional Redemption

What’s the Holdup?

After the President’s unrepentant comments this morning and the Republican Party’s rapid return to baseline–witness Lindsey “Count Me Out” Graham accompanying Trump on his border visit–the correct course seems clear: Impeach this afternoon and send the article or articles to the Senate this afternoon. The purpose of the 25th Amendment gambit in the interim remains unclear, and it suggests Congress would prefer to outsource its responsibilities to the vice president. Any delay in sending the article(s) to the Senate would suggest political maneuvering. More important, it would suggest subservience of House Democrats to President-Elect Biden’s wishes. An immediate impeachment and … Continue reading What’s the Holdup?

Constitutionalism in Congress

I agree with George that constitutionalism has eroded in Congress in addition to the presidency. That seems most evident when Congress sues the executive branch, thereby asking the courts to confront the bully on the block as opposed to flexing its own institutional muscle. It is also evident in the House’s decision to attempt to extort Mike Pence into invoking the 25th Amendment before exercising the impeachment power. The threat there seems to be: Do your job or we’ll do ours. Setting aside whether the 25th Amendment is an appropriate solution for the current crisis, impeachment has the advantage of … Continue reading Constitutionalism in Congress