The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Reagan’s solicitor general dismisses right’s fantasy about Obama “tyranny”

GOP officials are greeting President Obama’s announcement of 23 executive actions on guns today as if they constitute an abuse of presidential power not seen since the dark days of Watergate. RNC chair Reince Priebus is decrying Obama’s “executive power grab.” Others have called the move reminiscent of a “dictator” or a “tyrant,” and Marco Rubio slammed Obama’s rule by “executive fiat.” Still other Republicans have floated impeachment.

Guess who disagrees? The former Solicitor General of the United States … under Saint Ronald Reagan.

“These are either standard exercises of presidential power, or even more benignly, standard examples of the power of the president to exhort the public or state officials to be aware of certain problems and to address them,” Charles Fried, who was Reagan’s solicitor general during his second term, told me today.

Fried noted that some of the provisions are merely “use of the bully pulpit.” What he means is that provisions such as “launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign” and “challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies” to promote gun safety merely constitute the use of presidential stature to advocate. “If that’s an impeachable offense, then the president has just lost his first amendment rights,” Fried said.

Referring to provision number 11, Fried joked: “Is it an impeachable offense to nominate an ATF director?”

Fried noted that other provisions — such as directing the Attorney General to review categories of people prohibited from gun ownership, and addressing “unnecessary legal barriers” that prevent states from sharing info with the background check system — merely constitute a vow to review existing laws with an eye towards improving them. “How can there be anything offensive about the Attorney General reviewing existing legislation to see if there are any loopholes?” Fried asked.

Fried noted that still others — such as “provide law enforcement” with “proper training” for “active shooter situations” — were merely “vague” and “aspirational.”

Another one that’s bound to generate noise: “Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.” But the only thing that would make this controversial, as NBC News points out today, is the false belief that the health law outlaws this in the first place.

“Overreach would mean that the President is using a power he doesn’t have,” Fried concluded. “There’s nothing here that has to be understood in that way.”