The Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case is another example of the Obama administration’s determination not simply to further its own goals but to crush opponents and dissenting views. Understand that at issue was not whether women would get access to contraception or even subsidized contraception or even subsidized contraception that induces an abortion. Nonprofit groups with religious objections had already been exempted. This was a case in which rather do the reasonable, logical thing — the government pays for these drugs directly — the Department of Health and Human Services chose to try to force a family enterprise to do so against its sincere religious beliefs.
Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo remarks that “this case shows the extreme ideological ends pursued by the Obama administration through its legal powers, and so is of a piece with the Noel Canning recess appointments clause case of last Thursday. In both cases, the President pursued extreme arguments in court to advance an ideological agenda — today, it was to sweep religious minorities into Obamacare; on Thursday, to create a union-friendly [National Labor Relations Board].” He observes, “In both cases, the policy preference of Democrats was broadly at work. Most employers who supply insurance under Obamacare will not have religious freedom rights at stake. The NLRB and labor law already gives unions broad rights to organize. But in order to push its ideology to extremes, the administration had to pursue even the small number of religious-oriented small businesses to force them into the contraceptives mandate. To guarantee unions 100 percent win rate, rather than say 75 percent win rate in the NLRB, Obama had to illegally appoint its officials.”
The Hobby Lobby case certainly exemplifies the president’s frustration with any entity, individual or institution that gets in his way. “He is not broadly interpreting his powers to respond to emergencies or national security challenges,” Yoo says. “He is relying on extreme interpretations of his powers to play small ball politics and win for ideological supporters.”
Interestingly, both the president and his defenders argue that the recess appointments (now unanimously overturned by the Supreme Court) were justified because Congress was getting in his way. Obama acts as though this is a constitutional justification for his overreach, not a design feature of checks and balances. The Republicans won’t go along with some nominees, so he will improperly stretch the recess appointment power. Not every single employer will go along with the Obamacare mandate on abortion-inducing drugs, so rather than accommodate the few with legitimate objections, his HHS secretary wanted to force them to knuckle under to the demands of the federal government.
The president has been unable to work cooperatively with even his own Democrats in Congress. His Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D-Nev.), has stymied his own members to prevent progress on key issues. The Hill reports that Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), faced with a potential career-ending reelection fight, can’t even get a vote on his amendments from his leader:
Republicans have attacked Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and other endangered Democrats for voting their party line consistently or lacking the power to force their leadership to take a vote on a controversial amendment.
Begich, who was elected in 2008, has never received a roll-call vote on an amendment he’s offered on the Senate floor. The last time Pryor got a roll-call vote on one of his amendments was in March 2010.
Former Sen. Olympia Snowe, a centrist Republican from Maine who served in the chamber from 1995 to 2013, called the inability of Begich and Pryor to get votes in the past four years “shocking.”
“It’s startling, frankly, to me as someone who had an entirely different experience in the Senate and in the House of Representatives,” she said. “Even as a freshman in the House of Representatives in the minority I was able to get a vote on an amendment and I was successful.”
Likewise, Reid won’t allow a vote on Iran sanctions that scores of his own members would vote for, if only Reid didn’t refuse to bring measures to a vote at the behest of the White House.
In essence, the president suffers from remarkably poor persuasive and negotiating skills. When unsuccessful in achieving his maximalist demands, he then resorts to executive edict (as he is expected to do on immigration reform) or artificially induced gridlock. Then he hits the road, excoriating opponents for not doing his bidding. In two important instances this term, the Supreme Court has halted the president. But the real solution to the problem of executive overreach and gridlock is finding a president who can negotiate and persuade opponents, peel off moderates to make deals and give enough leeway to Americans so that he doesn’t ignite backlash against federal power. In 2016, the voters would be wise to look for someone with these qualities.