President Obama's State of the Union vow to reach for his pen and phone whenever Congress won't do his bidding is looking very much like monumental overreach. Large majorities of respondents in the latest Fox News survey of 1,006 registered voters decisively reject Obama's pen-and-phone threat.
For those inclined to suspect bias in a Fox News survey, here’s how the issue was posed: “Barack Obama said he will take action to advance his policy goals with or without Congress, and that he’ll use executive orders to get around Congress. Do you think this is the way our government is supposed to work, or not?” Seventy four percent of the respondents said they disapprove, compared to 23 percent who approve. Only three percent were undecided.
|We have a president who is basically claiming the right to rewrite or ignore or negate federal law.|
The survey posed the issue from a different angle with this question: “Regardless of what you think about how things are supposed to work, do you approve or disapprove of Barack Obama going around Congress and using executive orders?” Sixty percent still disapproved, with 37 percent approving. Again, only three percent were undecided. (It should be noted that 40 percent of the respondents identified themselves as Democrats, compared to 35 percent as Republicans and 22 percent as independents.)
Americans clearly continue to believe in the fundamental principle of separation of powers undergirding the Constitution — that Congress makes the laws, and the president enforces them — and they understand that Obama is usurping the prerogative of the legislative branch. As George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley put it in a recent interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, “The framers created a system that was designed to avoid one principle thing, the concentration of power in any one branch, because that balancing between these branches in this fixed orbit is what not only gives stability to our system but it protects against authoritarian power and our civil liberties from abuse.”
Obama’s heavy reliance upon executive orders to set aside, delay or rewrite provisions of laws Congress previously passed and signed fundamentally subverts the separation of powers principle in an especially ominous way. As Turley, who is a constitutional lawyer, said, “What we have been seeing is a very dangerous shift in that balance that makes it unstable.”
As it happens, Turley supports many of Obama’s policies, but emphasizes that “in our system, it often is as important how you do something as what you do … We have a president who is basically claiming the right to rewrite or ignore or negate federal law and that is a very dangerous thing that has nothing to do with the policies.”
The Founders gave Congress more than enough constitutional weapons to check presidential excesses, most notably in the power of the purse and oversight subpoenas. But as long as Congress is split between a Republican House and a Democrat Senate, with the latter determined to protect Obama, the only remedy remaining comes on election day. The Fox survey results suggest Nov. 4 can’t get here too soon.