Chuck Grassley

United States Senator from Iowa

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Obama's Executive Overreach No Laughing Matter

Dec 19, 2014

By U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa

A recent Saturday Night Live skit tapped into a deep concern among Americans about the President’s excessive use of executive authority.  That concern is exacerbated with the reality now better understood that President Obama has largely kept the public from knowing the extent of his unilateral action.
 
Without a doubt, Presidents have the authority to issue executive orders in various circumstances, constrained by laws and the Constitution.  Yet, in a number of executive orders, President Obama has exceeded his constitutional powers and failed to uphold the law.  His administration also has played semantics to try to hide the broad reach of his executive actions by calling them presidential memorandums instead of executive orders.  Procedurally, a memorandum is worse than an executive order, since there is even less public awareness and transparency associated with an executive memorandum.
                
Masquerading behind memorandums or word games can't hide the truth. President Obama has issued an extraordinary number of executive orders, contrary to the Administration’s claims, including some of the most sweeping I’ve seen.  
 
For example, the Constitution gives Congress the authority to establish uniform rules of naturalization.  And Congress has enacted statutes that create rules for becoming a citizen.  But despite his earlier self-acknowledgment that he could not constitutionally issue an executive order, or memorandum, concerning millions of undocumented aliens, the President did just that.  In fact, his memorandum is contrary to the Constitution and the laws.
 
Time and time again, the Obama Justice Department, which is supposed to ensure presidential compliance with the laws and the Constitution, and not act as an enabler, has concluded that his executive actions are lawful.  So, I’ve asked the President to publicly disclose the legal basis for all of his executive actions, not just those supportive of his actions.  This transparency would allow Congress and the American people a better understanding of the administration’s alleged legal basis for the President’s executive orders and memoranda.  Unfortunately, instead of living up to its pledge of unprecedented transparency, this White House is living up to its reputation of unprecedented arrogance and stonewalling.
 
Presidents often mistakenly believe that acting unilaterally is a sign of presidential strength.  Frequently, the reverse is true.  Executive orders and memoranda can be revoked at the stroke of a pen.  They can be challenged in court on various grounds.  And they are issued without public input, which harms democracy and reduces the chances that a broader debate will produce better policy.  By contrast, when a President works with Congress to enact legislation, the consensus-building process strengthens defensible outcomes.  And the achievement is longer lasting and more likely to be upheld by the courts.
 
The Democratic leadership of the Senate has failed to uphold the Senate’s constitutional duty to check over expansive executive power.  Restoring our checks and balances is critical to safeguarding the treasured freedoms and individual liberties that launched American exceptionalism more than two centuries ago.  The widely shared Saturday Night Live skit exposed the President's audacity to hope that no one would question his authority, but thumbing one's nose at the rule of law is no laughing matter.