Obama’s use of executive authority is about to become a real political issue


President Obama departs the White House on Tuesday, headed for Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Obama is weighing a big-time executive action on immigration that has both Democrats and Republicans anxious. He's also pursuing a major international climate-change agreement without ratification by Congress. And it's not yet clear whether the White House will seek congressional authorization for military action in Syria that appears increasingly likely.

Yes, we are finally entering into what could be a very big debate about executive authority -- and with the 2014 election just weeks away.

ThIS debate was supposed to happen when House Republicans sued Obama over his having delayed a portion of Obamacare unilaterally. But if he does even one of the things mentioned above without Congress (much less two or three of them in the span of a few days/weeks), the court of public opinion will pretty much be forced to weigh in on whether he has gone too far.

As we've written before, the GOP's lawsuit against Obama is unpopular, with a recent poll showing Americans opposed it 58-34.

But that doesn't mean they aren't concerned about Obama -- or any president, for that matter -- going too far without the consent of Congress. In fact, there is plenty of concern about a unilateral executive and commander in chief.

A recent CNN/Opinion Research poll showed 45 percent of Americans thought Obama had gone too far in expanding the power of the executive branch. A Fox News poll, meanwhile, showed they thought he went too far by changing Obamacare on his own by a 58-37 margin.

Perhaps most illustrative, a Washington Post-ABC News poll in January showed 46 percent said they opposed the concept of a president using executive orders to bypass Congress and enact an administration's goals. The question did not mention Obama specifically, but rather an undefined president (a key distinction in the polarized environment in which we find ourselves).

As we noted back then, the debate over the appropriateness of executive action is one that doesn't interest the vast majority of Americans. That has certainly been the case so far.

But should Obama effectively legalize millions of illegal immigrants or launch military action in Syria without consulting Congress -- something even Democratic senators are cautioning him against -- the interest of the American people would likely be piqued. And at that point, it would be time for a real debate about executive authority.

Whether that would be a positive or a negative for Obama remains to be seen. But at least we would see a long-simmering issue finally come to the political fore.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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