On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee brought in legal experts with a message of tough love.
They testified that the House — indeed, the whole Congress — was a bunch of lily-livered pushovers, unable to stand up to a bully.
“Recently, Congress has seemed — frankly — feckless and uncertain as to its authority,” testified Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University.
Later on, Turley went further. This wasn’t just weakness.
It was worse. Did Congress actually hate itself?
“For Congress not to act, in my view, borders on self-loathing,” he said.
“If you want to stay relevant as an institution,” said Elizabeth Price Foley, a law professor at Florida International University, “I would suggest that you not stand idly by and let the president take your power away.”
The subject of the committee’s hearing was “Enforcing the President’s Constitutional Duty to Faithfully Execute the Laws.” It was the second time in three months that the committee, chaired by Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.), had examined a recent spate of decisions by President Obama that had altered the implementation of existing laws.
Among the decisions at issue on Wednesday was Obama’s 2012 announcement that the United States would not seek to deport some illegal immigrants who were brought to this country as children. Republicans on the House panel also criticized several orders in which Obama delayed deadlines written into his health-care law.
“President Obama’s actions have pushed executive power beyond all limits, and created what has been called an ‘über-presidency,’” Goodlatte said at the start of the hearing. He and other Republicans said that Obama — by failing to adhere to the laws as Congress wrote them — was neglecting a constitutional duty. That duty is in Article II, Section 3: “he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”
“He is trampling our Constitution and our very freedom,” said Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.), a freshman. Rice said that Obama’s actions could easily be copied by a Republican president in the future: “What would prevent the next president from saying, you know, ‘I think the national tax bracket’s too high; I’m not going to enforce that?’ ”
On Wednesday, it seemed unlikely that the House was going to push back effectively against Obama’s actions — at least not anytime soon.
The committee heard from four Republican lawmakers, each touting a different bill aimed at stopping Obama from altering the meaning of laws on the books.
Two of them, including one sponsored by Rice, would allow Congress to bring legal action against the president. One would take away funding for a position the administration created within the immigration bureaucracy. The fourth would require more reporting from the White House about instances where the administration has stopped enforcing a law that is still on the books.
So far, none of the bills have made it out of committee, even in the GOP-controlled House.
So this was a hearing about inaction, which seemed likely to be followed by inaction.
“This is political theater. That’s why we’re here. We’re not here to hear about your interpretations of the Constitution,” Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said, talking to the panel of legal experts that included Turley and Foley. “What we have here is another do-nothing hearing, in a do-nothing Congress, that will result in do-nothing legislation.”
“I raise the question of frivolity,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), making the same point more colorfully but somewhat less effectively. “And legislative milquetoasts.”
On the Republican side, even with four options already on the table, some lawmakers were still searching for new tactics to use against Obama. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), for instance, wondered aloud: Congress has the power to create courts, right?
So, couldn’t it simply require a court to consider whether Obama had done Congress wrong?
“With respect, I think you’re actually incorrect about this,” Foley said.