Chickens, Meet Roost

Hang on to your hats, folks!  Yesterday, the new Congress was sworn in, and amidst the first-day activities — which featured an ill-considered effort by House Republicans to change the powers of an ethics investigative unit, that was abruptly reversed in the face of criticism from the media, Democrats, and Donald Trump — we started to get a sense of what might be coming in the next few months, after the new President is sworn in, too.

roostingchickensTwo things seem pretty clear.  First, President-elect Trump and the Republicans in Congress are serious about taking aim at some parts of President Obama’s agenda.  Second, some of the methods used by the Democrats over the last eight years to implement that agenda are now ready to be used by Republicans to reverse course.

For example, President Obama has been very active in setting policy through executive orders, rather than by obtaining changes through the congressional process.  In fact, the President is continuing to issue executive orders and probably will continue to do so until the Trump Administration takes office.  Similarly, the Obama Administration has issued regulatory guidance that changes the prevailing approach in a number of areas.  But what can be achieved through executive orders also can be undone by executive orders, and the Trump Administration has indicated that it plans to do precisely that.

In short, because President Obama was unable to convince Congress to enact many of his policy initiatives, those initiatives are ready to be changed at the stroke of a pen.  President Obama recognizes this; in fact, he recently urged Trump to try to govern through legislation, rather than executive order, for this very reason.  Republicans said President Obama’s advice against overuse of executive orders was “ironic,” but in any case it is clear that many of his executive orders are going to be reversed when President Trump takes office.  We don’t know yet exactly how extensive the changes will be, but don’t be surprised if the coverage of Trump’s first day in office includes footage of him signing a series of executive orders to change Obama Administration policies.

You’ll also recall that, during the Obama Administration, the Democrats who controlled the Senate exercised the “nuclear option” and changed certain internal rules about how many votes were needed to overcome filibusters.  Now New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the new head of Senate Democrats, regrets that the Democrats took that action — because it will make it tougher for Democrats to oppose and block confirmation of Trump’s selections for positions in his Cabinet.

It’s all pretty predictable.  You can think about chickens coming home to roost, sauce for the goose and sauce for the gander, and what goes around coming around — but the reality is that, with the pendulum swings we’ve seen in voting for President and for the Congress, anything that isn’t enacted into law through the legislative process contemplated by the Constitution will be immediately subject to change when the power shifts again, and that every procedural maneuver used to further one side’s agenda will be hauled out and used anew when the other side takes over.

It’s not a good way to govern.

Functional Disenfranchisement

According to an AP story, President Obama has decided to refrain from issuing any executive orders on immigration until after the election.  The sources for the story are “two White House officials” who probably are floating the idea as a kind of trial balloon.

The President had promised immigration advocates that he would take action by the end of the summer, so they are disappointed and angry about the President’s decision.  The decision is expected to help certain “vulnerable” Democratic Senators who are facing tough reelection campaigns this year.  The story reports that the officials said that the President “concluded that circumventing Congress through executive actions on immigration during the campaign would politicize the issue and hurt future efforts to pass a broad overhaul.”  At the same time, the President apparently says he will take executive action, without any congressional involvement, by the end of the year.

Does the President really expect anyone to believe that his decision is an attempt to avoid politicizing the issue?  That depiction of his motives is laughably false.  It’s obvious that the contrary is true:  the President recognizes that immigration is a hot-button issue, and issuing aggressive executive orders is just going to hurt the Democrats who — unlike the President — are facing the voters this November.  The effect of the delay in any action by the President is entirely political; it will avoid anyone being held accountable if the voters happen to disagree with whatever edicts the President issues.

We’ve heard lots of talk about people being disenfranchised by policies, for example, that limit early voting.  This decision is the functional equivalent of disenfranchisement; it’s just a more duplicitous approach.  Wait until after an election to protect incumbents, then have a lame-duck President issue executive orders and hope that voters are focused on some other issues by the time the 2016 election rolls around.  Reliance on executive orders of dubious constitutionality to make huge changes to federal law and practices is distorting the political process, encouraging Congress to do nothing except raise more campaign funds, and stripping us of our ability to influence national policy through our votes.

Mr. President, you’re not fooling me, and I doubt that you’re fooling anyone else.  If you are going to make huge changes to immigration policy, at least have the guts and fairness to do so before the election, so voters can have their say about your actions.