Republicans have no right to complain about Biden’s barrage of unilateral action as they were happy that Trump implemented as much of his agenda as possible by exactly the same means. But having the presidents of both parties now governing like this doesn’t make it better – it makes it worse.
Some executive actions severely usurp the authority of Congress or are in violation of the Constitution, while others are firmly in the realm of the executive. However, the sheer volume of activities that presidents undertake alone is not in keeping with the spirit of our constitutional system.
The presidency has overwhelmed a legislature that is only too willing to give power and responsibility to the executive. The congress was an avid participant in its own castration.
James Madison thought the legislature was insatiable and steadily accumulating power. Instead, it is the branch of least self-respect, led by men and women who identify with the interests of presidents and their own parties beyond the interests of their own institutions.
This means that Congress is more or less excluded from action on important national policy issues. Obama blocked the Keystone XL pipeline, Trump blessed it, and Biden blocked it again.
Obama included us in the Paris Climate Agreement, Trump took us out and Biden took us back in.
Think about what Biden was doing alone on Wednesday.
He directed the Home Office to stop new state oil and gas leases, review current leasing practices, and identify steps to double renewable energy generation by 2030.
He created a President’s Special Envoy for Climate, as well as an Office for Internal Climate Policy in the White House – led by a brand new National Climate Advisor and Assistant National Climate Advisor – a National Climate Action Group, a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative, and an Interacting Work Group for Coal and Power Communities and economic recovery, an Interagency Council on Environmental Justice in the White House and an Environmental Justice Council in the White House.
He also founded a Justice40 initiative to direct 40 percent of the relevant federal investment to disadvantaged communities, as well as a climate and environmental justice review tool to implement the new policy and an environmental justice scorecard to track the results.
And on the seventh day, Biden rested (after putting his pen back in his pocket).
If Congress had passed a law that did all of these, it would be a pretty active day. Instead, of course, Congress stood on the sidelines … and commented.
“I’m proud that President Biden has announced a series of executive measures on the climate issue,” tweeted Chuck Schumer, Senate majority leader.
Schumer’s only complaint is that Biden is not doing more for the climate on his own.
This is the same Chuck Schumer who has been legislature since 1975 when he took a seat in the New York State Assembly, who has been in Congress since 1981, in the Senate since 1999, and who rose to majority leader just a week ago and represented the culmination of a national Legislative career.
Yet Schumer appeared on “The Rachel Maddow Show” the other day and asked Biden to declare a national climate emergency because “he can do many, many things among the emergency powers … that he could do without legislation”.
This would be like giving Judge Colonel John Roberts Biden advice on how to pack the Supreme Court – unless it is inconceivable that a Supreme Court judge would so openly despise the legitimacy and prerogatives of his own institution.
This is a special and longstanding Congress sickness. As Yuval Levin of the American Enterprise Institute, who has done a lot of research on this problem, wrote in an article Essay for Commentary MagazineCongress has been delegating its powers to the executive for some time. What is new is that partisanship has created a loyalty for members of Congress that goes beyond their ties to Congress itself, while more and more members see their position in Congress merely as a platform to attract attention rather than legislate.
What should I do? Levin proposes several reforms – a more manageable budget process, more emphasis, more off-camera reflection – that could make Congress more effective. However, there is no substitute for Congress to look after its own reputation.
“Congress is weak and dysfunctional because that suits its members,” writes Levin. “It could only renew itself if its members want such a renewal.”
All signs suggest that it is perfectly content to be replaced by the pen and the phone.