Presidential Powers and Prerogatives
I am not, in general, a big fan of saying: Republicans: you lost. Get over it. But in this case, I’m going to make an exception. The Republicans do not seem to be willing to allow the President to do things that are plainly his prerogative: appointing the reasonable, qualified, law-abiding people of his choice, deciding which documents should be declassified, and so forth. Any moment now they’ll threaten not to pass the budget unless he sets his air conditioner at their preferred temperature.
Andrew Sullivan links approvingly and I agree so far as it goes. But it’s not so cut and dried.
Whether I voted for a given president or not, I’ve consistently believed that the Senate’s advise and consent powers on appointment should be a backstop against truly outrageous choices. That goes doubly true for executive appointments.
At the same time, however, there seems to be quite a bit of wiggle room in “reasonable” and “qualified.” (Indeed, even if “law-abiding,” given the criminalization of politics over the last twenty years.)
Was, for example, John Bolton qualified to serve as UN Ambassador? Seemingly so: He’d held a number of progressively responsible positions in government over a two decade span, including General Counsel at USAID, Assistant AG, and Assistant Secretary of State. Was he “reasonable”? His critics said No. Mostly, the criticisms were over temperament and style, although these things always come down to policy differences.
The bottom line on these things, though, is that what comes around, goes around. The spiking of Ronald Reagan’s appointment of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court — back in 1987 — seems to be the start of the current all-holds-barred approach to these things. The Republicans don’t really have much incentive to be the first one off the merry-go-round, since they’ve got no assurance of taking back the White House any time soon, let alone any reason to think the Democrats would reciprocate.
President Obama almost certainly has the right to decide to de-classify the so-called “torture memos” from the previous administration. Indeed, he may be obligated to do so pursuant to a court order.
As a general rule, though, I’m not at all sure that the president should be the sole decider. Indeed, many on the Left spent much of the previous eight years demanding that Congress intervene to stop what some regarded as the Bush administration’s abuse of this particular power.
If we’re going to cede Congress oversight responsibility in this area — and I don’t see how a Republic could operate otherwise — then they, too, will naturally abuse/use their power to advance their own political interests and pet agendas. The beauty of checks and balances is to have faction counter faction and everyone jealously guarding their own prerogatives.