Editorial: Restore limits on presidential power

  • Associated Press File PhotoA presidential emergency declaration enabled funding to be diverted to expansion of the southern border wall despite congressional opposition.

    Associated Press File PhotoA presidential emergency declaration enabled funding to be diverted to expansion of the southern border wall despite congressional opposition.

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted9/25/2021 2:00 PM

Of the many controversies that dogged Donald Trump's presidency, the steps he took to try to build a wall across the southern border may have been among the most polarizing.

Many rallied around the initiative. Many railed against it.

 

Given the divisions and the almost universal opposition among Democrats, Trump faced unyielding obstacles in Congress.

Early in 2019, he went around Congress to find money for the wall -- declaring border crossings to be a national emergency and diverting funds from other appropriations.

Turned out, he did not need to collaborate with Congress. Years ago, Congress had given the president nearly limitless authority to declare almost anything a national emergency and to respond to that "emergency" with little constraint.

That power is autocratic and dangerous to the country. Regardless what you think about the wall. Regardless what you think about immigration. Regardless what you think about Trump. Or Biden.

The federal government was built around the notion that the presidency would be limited, a somewhat equal partner in a triumvirate that also includes the Congress and the courts.

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But since the days of Franklin Roosevelt at least, the constraints on the White House have gradually worn away, save for a reassertion of power by the other branches of government in the 1970s in response to Watergate.

Legislation is now being considered that would change that, that would place some common-sense limitations on the power of the presidency.

In addition to addressing the emergency powers, it would limit the president's pardon power, strengthen laws to ban presidents from receiving gifts or payments from foreign governments, better protect independent agency watchdogs and whistleblowers from firing or retribution and give Congress better tools to enforce subpoenas.

These safeguards all make sense and they are not without precedent. We need to close loopholes that enable a president -- any president -- to take unilateral action, defy Congress and ignore warranted investigations.

Unfortunately, the way Democrats have raised the legislation is almost certain to doom it.

Rather than reaching across the aisle to try to craft something with reasonable Republicans, they've turned this into another debate about Trump. And they've made Adam Schiff, rightly or wrongly a lightning rod to those on the right, the chief spokesman on the measure.

This legislation is too important to the republic's future to politicize it.

We hope proponents will see that and that it can be presented in a respectful way that will afford it a full and fair hearing.

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