On CNN Tuesday, Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett said that President Obama’s new gun control proposal isn’t technically bypassing Congress because it’s not like Congress was going to pass the gun control law the Obama Administration wants anyway:
“Let’s be specific – the president is not circumventing Congress,” she told host Chris Cuomo on CNN’s “New Day.”
“They have made it very clear they are not going to act [and] the president is doing what is well within his executive authority to do,” Jarrett continued. […]
“Obviously, the president made a very strong effort to work with Congress,” Jarrett continued. “We just had a hard time getting Republicans to take what most people think are reasonable steps.
“The president has determined he is going to do whatever he can to keep guns out of the wrong hands,” the senior White House adviser added.
The troubling implications of this logic go way, way, way past gun control.
Second Amendment issues aside, this is a fundamental subversion of how the Constitution’s balance of powers is designed to work.
Yes, the president can issue executive orders (EOs), and just about president since George Washington has done so (of course, Washington and other early leaders would no doubt be baffled by the modern rate of EO use—let alone the freewheeling days of FDR). The president is rightfully accorded a degree of discretion in implementing the laws Congress makes.
But lawmaking authority is still unquestionably seated in the legislative, not the executive branch.
In other words, it’s one thing for the president to tweak federal agencies’ lawfully-defined priorities as needed to respond to current events. It’s another for the president to expand his authority beyond what is essentially an administrative office.
All of that is what makes Jarrett’s argument and Obama’s gun control action troubling regardless of one’s opinion on guns. David Harsyani makes this case well at The Federalist:
But more consequentially — and this may be the most destructive legacy of the Obama presidency — is the mainstreaming of the idea that if Congress “fails to act” it’s okay for the president to figure out a way to make law himself. Hillary’s already applauded Obama’s actions because, as she put it, “Congress won’t act; we have to do something.” […]
To believe this, you’d have to accept two things: 1) That Congress has a responsibility to pass laws on the issues that the president desires or else they would be abdicating their responsibility, and 2) That Congress has not already acted.
In most matters, contrary George W. Bush’s infamous assertion, the president is constitutionally not “the decider.”
He’s the doer.
Congress is supposed to be the decider—even (or sometimes especially) when it doesn’t do what the president wants.