Cheney: Obama Won’t Give Back Power

Dick Cheney thinks Barack Obama will come to “appreciate” the increased power the Bush Administration has claimed for the White House and will not be at all eager to return it.

“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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Barry says:

    “… in a gray area between ordinary enemy prisoners of war and international criminals…”

    There is none, except in the minds and words of the administration. Of course, ‘gray area’ here means ‘black hole that the executive branch can exploit’.

  2. caj says:

    Does anybody really care what Cheney has to say, it has been nothing but lies anyway in this superb administration run by complete imbeciles!!!
    This arrogant man should be facing jail anyway alongside others in the administration….thank God they will soon be gone.
    He still doesn’t think they went beyond their constitutional rights even now….the man is totally delusional.
    I see a photographer waiting for Cheney to come and hold up the card with his prison number underneath.

  3. Bithead says:

    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.

    Well, at least he’ll try. As evidenced by his insistance on using the title ‘office of a President Elect’ an office which simply does not exost, Obama is more concerned about the image than the reality.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    Cheney is absolutely correct. All this nonsense about ignoring the constitution and breaking the law is little more than childish tantrums. Congress and the courts pushed back when necessary against the executive branch. The struggle between them will always be a part of our system.

    I would also say with this being a new kind of war the gray areas would be everywhere. To act as if they don’t exist ignores reality. Sure mistakes were made but hearing it from eminent professors of hindsight doesn’t mean they could have been avoided. All and all a good job done with the tools we had and the hurdles some put up.

  5. Franklin says:

    All this nonsense about ignoring the constitution and breaking the law is little more than childish tantrums.

    Wow, I thought you were being sarcastic. Reading the rest of your post, it appears you were not.

    Yes, defending the Constitution and laws is indeed quite childish. Ignoring them has clearly earned us the respect we deserve, and the results we wanted.

    BTW, that was *actual* sarcasm.

  6. Steve Verdon says:

    I agree with cheney’s assessment that Obama will not give back any of the powers that the Bush Administration has acquired. In fact, I expect his Administration to make many of the same arguments that the Bush Administration has been making. Now the shoe will be on the other foot and the people bitching, whining and crying about Bush’s power grabs will be defending Obama.

    I’m looking forward to seeing all the rank hypocrisy from the commenters here.

  7. Brett says:

    The Bush Administration still largely obeyed the Supreme Court rulings (if not necessarily US statutory law at all times), so what we need is for Congress to actually push back more often. Congress’s main power has always been that of the purse – so use it! If a President is unwilling to send any of his flunkies to address the oversight committees, threaten to cut off funding for some of his major programs.

  8. tom p says:

    Steve Plunk said:

    Cheney is absolutely correct. All this nonsense about ignoring the constitution and breaking the law is little more than childish tantrums.

    Yeah, sure Steve… tell that to Maher Arar or Salim Hamdan… They have just been throwing childish tantrums for the last 6-7 yrs.

    And before you bring up the straw man of their not being US Citizens, and therefor not entitled to rights of any kind (thereby ignoring the Geneva Conventions amongst other treaties and laws), don’t forget Jose Padilla a US Citizen…. but he was just whining too.

    as to…

    Congress and the courts pushed back when necessary against the executive branch.

    How hard did Congress push back against Bush after he added this signing statement to the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 :

    “The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks.”
    Steve, you may find this to be nothing more than a “childish tantrum”… But WHERE IN THE HELL DOES ONE FIND A “unitary executive branch” in the actual Constitution of the United States of America???

    Yeah… I know… You can find that phrase in Federalist #70 (I think, been awhile since I read them), but… Federalist #69 (???) totally negates the presently posited view of the so called “unitary executive”… Which, while I am not a constitutional scholar, makes it a wash to me.

    I would also say with this being a new kind of war the gray areas would be everywhere.

    The law is the law. Not so gray areas are viewable in fore sight as well as hind sight: No torture, no extraordinary rendition to countries that torture, the Geneva Conventions, no wire tapping of US citizens with out a warrant, habeas corpus, etc, etc, etc.

    But don’t worry Steve, if they ever come to get you, I will be among the most vociferous in your defense… Just don’t expect it to do you any good.

    Steve V:

    Obama will not give back any of the powers that the Bush Administration has acquired.

    I fear that you are correct (power corrupts). I hope that you are wrong, but…. in light of the last 8 yrs, if Obama wants it, who is going to stop him? (and yes, I will bitch as loudly as you… for what ever good it will do)

  9. tom p says:

    The Bush Administration still largely obeyed the Supreme Court rulings (if not necessarily US statutory law at all times),

    Not picking on you Brett, but does anybody else see the problems with this statement?

  10. Brett says:

    Not picking on you Brett, but does anybody else see the problems with this statement?

    I should clarify – they basically would say “You can’t restrain my actions with laws during war-time!”, and would use that excuse to avoid being bound by the laws. Of course, the argument rested on their claim that the Constitution permitted them to do as such, so when the Court ruled that a certain type of law or action was unconstitutional, they backed on (mostly).

  11. Brett says:

    Err, they backed off, that’s what I meant. By “they” I mean the Bush Administration.

  12. tom p says:

    I should clarify – they basically would say “You can’t restrain my actions with laws during war-time!”,

    Again, I was not picking on you Brett, but when you said:

    The Bush Administration still largely obeyed the Supreme Court rulings (if not necessarily US statutory law at all times),

    You were saying that you felt they thought they were above the law, and what is more not even bound by the constitution

    Whether you were correct or not in this observation, the fact that you felt this way is a problem. The fact that a significant proportion of the US population agreed… Is an even bigger problem. In light of the Presidents Oath of Office,
    “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

    this is a real problem.

  13. Brett says:

    You were saying that you felt they thought they were above the law, and what is more not even bound by the constitution…

    Whether you were correct or not in this observation, the fact that you felt this way is a problem. The fact that a significant proportion of the US population agreed… Is an even bigger problem. In light of the Presidents Oath of Office,
    “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

    this is a real problem.

    What are you talking about? I felt nothing – I was merely pointing out dispassionately that the Bush Administration by and large seemed to obey Supreme Court rulings even though they would often disobey Congressional statutes that they disagreed with (particularly those regarding acts of war). Technically speaking, I didn’t voice an opinion at all.

  14. just me says:

    I agree with Cheney. Obama won’t be giving back any of those powers, and I also agree that it probably won’t take long for Obama to start making arguments for why he is keeping them.

    I do think Obama wants to close Gitmo, but I also think the poltical realities of what to do with the detainees will keep it open. There is no way Obama can bring the detainees here and not get slammed for it. And nobody else wants them.

    I think part of the problem with the growing power of the executive though is congress won’t take risks and they abdicate a lot of their responsibilities to the executive-it allows them to avoid risk but scream about the executive when things go wrong.

    When was the last time congress actually declared war?

  15. tom p says:

    What are you talking about? I felt nothing – I was merely pointing out dispassionately that the Bush Administration by and large seemed to obey Supreme Court rulings even though they would often disobey Congressional statutes that they disagreed with (particularly those regarding acts of war). Technically speaking, I didn’t voice an opinion at all.

    Correct Brett, you were making a simple observation: That the Bush Administration does not feel bound by the law, and what is more, feels it can pick and choose (“largely” means “not always”)which Supreme Court decisions it will follow…

    As to my use of the word “felt”, all observations are subjective, what we see is not independent of how we feel about things. Ask any cop at a murder scene…

    What I am talking, about is the fact that you see that the President of the United States (and those around him) thinks he is above the law, and nobody here seems to find that idea objectionable.