Noting the many ways in which Donald Trump ran roughshod over Congress during his one term, three political scientists took to the editorial page of the New York Times to lay out a roadmap for the Democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House to rein in the growing problem of the "imperial presidency."
According to John A. Dearborn, Desmond S. King and Stephen Skowronek, former President Trump used every weapon at his disposal to work around the norms of "advise and consent" to get his way when it came to forcing through appointees and firing government watchdogs who were critical of his machinations.
The three authors claim there is no time like the present -- with Trump's conflict-filled four years recently concluded -- to change the balance of power.
They made their case by first writing, "What should Congress do about the 'imperial' presidency? President Donald Trump managed the executive branch as his own fief, mocking the markers Congress had set down to secure its interests in government. Mr. Trump purged inspectors general and removed an F.B.I. director, brushing aside protections Congress established in law for their independence. He installed loyalists in acting positions, flouting the Senate's confirmation process, and weakened protections for career professionals. He defied Congress's power of the purse and its oversight authority."
Writing that, "Institutional combat doesn't play to Congress's strengths," the authors noted there is a historical precedent to taking back power.
"When Congress wanted to gain a firmer grip on government spending, it enlisted the presidency as a partner. In 1921, legislators required the president to propose an annual budget, created a new budget bureau to ensure that the president's recommendations were backed by expertise and established an independent office to keep track of expenditures," they explained.
Continuing on, they pointed out, "When, in the late 1930s, the president asked for power to reorganize the agencies of the executive branch, Congress devised a new cooperative arrangement. The president's reorganization plans would be privileged, but legislators could veto them. When Congress wanted to act in areas like financial regulation or monetary policy, it fused the interests of legislators, presidents and administrators together in new independent agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve Board."
Additionally, when it came to Trump's firing of what he considered a troublesome inspector general, they recommended bolstering laws to protect them and using the "power of the purse" to keep another imperial president in line.
Noting that Supreme Court has limited the ability of Congress to restrain a president in all matters, the three wrote that a restructuring of government could set-up institutional roadblocks for another Trump.
"Congress has at its disposal a variety of bridge-building tools. It could revive the use of multi-member independent boards. It could depoliticize key administrative positions by assigning the appointment of 'inferior officers,' like administrative law judges, to the courts. It could rework the president's emergency declaration powers, requiring legislative approval for any action lasting more than 30 days. It could create a congressional regulation office, mirroring the president's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, to engage executive branch agencies in a more cooperative process of rule-making," the suggested.
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