Cheney: Obama Won’t Give Back Power
“Once they get here and they’re faced with the same problems we deal with every day, then they will appreciate some of the things we’ve put in place,” Cheney said during an interview on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. “We did not exceed our constitutional authority, as some have suggested,” Cheney insisted. “The President believes, I believe very deeply, in a strong executive, and I think that’s essential in this day and age. And I think the Obama administration is not likely to cede that authority back to the Congress. I think they’ll find that given a challenge they face, they’ll need all the authority they can muster.”
It’s long been said that the Constitution creates “an invitation to struggle” between the executive and legislative branches. With rare exceptions, the executive has been winning since roughly 1933. Presidents, especially during wars and other emergencies, push the limits on their power, usually succeed, and the office retains more power than it had once the crisis is over.
Whether the encroachments of the Bush Administration are “unconstitutional” or merely “extra-constitutional” is a matter of debate. The Supreme Court has handed them some losses along the way but also upheld many of their actions. As I wrote for TCS nearly three years ago, it’s really an academic question. “Real Power is Something You Take.”
The modern president has reversed the Constitutional presumption that Congress is the preeminent branch and the president secondary. Since Roosevelt, it has been axiomatic that “the president proposes, Congress disposes.” That is especially true in foreign policy and even more so in national security matters.
It’s true that Bush doesn’t have the degree of autonomy in this war as FDR and Lincoln did in theirs. But that’s mostly a function of public perception of the nature of a war–what he can get away with, to put it more crassly–than any limitation of constitutional power. Much of what FDR and others have done is extraconstitutional. But bold wartime leaders have been flouting the Constitution since at least Lincoln, with the full support of the public.
Cheney went on to say that he doesn’t think Obama will actually close the detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay, despite campaign promises to do so, saying, “Guantanamo has been very, very valuable. And I think they’ll discover that trying to close it is a very hard proposition.”
Cheney’s right that closing Gitmo will be very hard. Aside from its being “valuable” as a place to house prisoners in a gray area between ordinary enemy prisoners of war and international criminals, there’s the matter of what to do with current detainees who are not welcome in their countries of origin. That said, the sheer symbolic nature of the place means Obama will almost certainly find solutions to those problems and shut the place down, even if it means creating a Gitmo minus the baggage elsewhere.