“A government above the law is a menace to be defeated.”
“This is a nation of laws,” President Obama proclaimed on Tuesday during his plea for calm in Ferguson, MO.
Yes it is. And the President of the United States, who appears to be unable or unwilling to work with Congress on immigration, shouldn’t be focusing his energies on how to go around it.
“America is a nation of laws, which means I, as the president, am obligated to enforce the law. I don’t have a choice about that. That’s part of my job,” Obama said in March 2011, at an event hosted by the Spanish-language television network Univision.
“There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply through executive order ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president,” Obama added.
So there’s something very dispiriting about his administration’s current maneuvering, in collusion with an array of special interests, to bypass Congress and circumvent immigration law through executive orders.
It reminds me of my time as staff on a committee of the House of Representatives when an impatient constituent complained about House inaction on a piece of legislation. Rep. Edwin Forsythe (R-NJ), the ranking minority member of the committee, replied that the Founders intended Congress to be deliberate. “It keeps a lot of bad bills from passing,” he said.
Instead of letting that legislative process play out, there’s something odious about all the special interests sidling up to Obama and his advisors behind closed doors to plead their case. They haven’t succeeded in pushing Congress to pass an immigration bill to their liking, so they’re happy to win by going in the back door.
This is where special deals for special interests, many of which have likely contributed generously to Obama and Democrats, can get their rewards without public exposure.
In an interesting juxtaposition of stories in today’s New York Times, one story highlighted Obama’s disengagement with Congress. “…nearly six years into his term, with his popularity at the lowest of his presidency, Mr. Obama appears remarkably distant from his own party on Capitol Hill, with his long neglect of would-be allies catching up to him,” the story said.
Meanwhile,another story outlined Obama’s plans to use executive orders to make “potentially sweeping changes to the nation’s immigration system without Congress.”
”America cannot wait forever for them to act,” Obama said of Congressional Republicans.
But the unwillingness of Congress to act on a president’s priorities shouldn’t mean defaulting to unbridled executive action. Rather, it should lead to more aggressive effort to secure Congressional votes.
When faced with Congressional resistance to his civil rights proposals, President Johnson didn’t retreat to the oval office to invent spurious ways to bypass Congress. As Robert Caro has so ably documented, Johnson worked every angle, twisted every arm, and glad-handed every critic to secure passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
According to Caro, when Johnson embarked on his campaign for a civil rights bill, his allies cautioned him about using up his political capitol on a important but doomed effort so soon after ascending to the presidency following Kennedy’s assassination.
Johnson’s reply? “Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?”