Taking a hatchet to presidential power

In addition to the far-right policy agenda pursued by congressional Republicans, it’s worth noting that these same GOP lawmakers intend to take away as much of President Obama’s powers as they can.

The Constitution, for example, gives the executive the authority to make recess appointments, and dozens of House Republicans are eager to ensure Obama cannot exercise that authority.

The vast majority of freshman Republicans have told House GOP leaders they should block President Obama from making any future recess appointments.

In a letter sent to Republican leaders Thursday, a group of 77 freshman asked them to take any steps necessary to stifle the chance for recess appointments, including blocking any more recesses for the entirety of the 112th Congress.

“As freshmen, we came to the House of Representatives on a wave of public discontent with the lack of transparency in Washington,” the letter stated. “The next logical step in our efforts to restore the public’s trust in their government is to prevent further recess appointments.”

Why recess appointments have been fine for centuries, but now must be considered moves that undermine “the public’s trust,” is unclear.

What’s more, note that these Republicans aren’t just talking about this summer or even this year. The 77 lawmakers want to stop Obama from being able to use his own recess power, no matter the vacancy or the circumstances, indefinitely.

Also note, the same day as this letter about recesses, House Republicans also began pushing a measure to prevent the president from issuing “signing statements” — another power presidents have been using for generations.

And while we’re at it, let’s also not forget the ongoing scandal involving the Senate GOP refusing to allow votes on qualified administration nominees. While senators have “long exercised their constitutional prerogative to derail nominations,” the NYT explained today, the current “standoffs differ in at least one respect: Republicans have said they are not opposing a particular nominee but rather any nominee, whoever it may be.” A former Republican aide conceded, “This isn’t about any particular appointee — Ben Franklin could come back to life and [Senate Republicans] would oppose him.”

What I find remarkable about all of this is comparing the seriousness of the times and the severity of the GOP’s restrictions. In effect, President Obama is being told, “You have to fix the economy, win several wars, fix the housing crisis, respond to disasters, improve American energy policy, and keep the country safe, all while being fiscally responsible. But you can’t have a full team in place; you can’t enjoy the same powers your predecessors did; you can’t use the same tools your predecessors used; and you can’t expect the Senate to function by majority rule the way it used to. Good luck.”

This is no way to run an advanced democracy in the 21st century.