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Mar 01 2012

Obama Campaign Manager Scoffs at Rule of Law

Glenn Greenwald has his dander up over a statement by President Obama’s deputy campaign manager, and rightly so. Faced with the Republican candidates trying to paint Obama as weak on foreign policy and terrorism, she didn’t just defend his record, she pulled out the “Obama can be just as dismissive of the rule of law as Republicans, maybe more” line of attack.

And then we heard the same thing on Wednesday night from Stephanie Cutter, President Obama’s Deputy Campaign Manager. She appeared on MSNBC to discuss that night’s GOP debate with Lawrence O’Donnell, who subjected her to the very hard-hitting adversarial journalism for whichthat cable channel has become so justifiably admired when it comes to reporting on the Obama administration. After boldly challenging Cutter to explain what President Obama’s large polling lead tells us about the GOP challengers (it shows the Nation adores the leader and hates the GOP), he then invited her to act as “truth squad” and identify the biggest lie told about the President during the GOP debate. This is how she responded:

The most egregious falsehood would be the President’s position on Iran, whether it’s Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum, attacking the President for not being tough enough on Iran. Ask any foreign policy expert out there, we have the toughest sanctions in place today than we’ve had in decades thanks to this President.  . . . Now look at Mitt Romney. What he didn’t say on the stage tonight is that just four years ago, when asked the same question on Iran, he said he’d have to check with his lawyers. That does not make a Commander-in-Chief, somebody who has to check with his lawyers.

She went on to mock him for saying he would not invade Pakistan without its consent to get bin Laden. On “checking with his lawyers,” what Romney actually said was this, when asked whether he would attack Iran without first getting Congressional approval:

The other topic that sparked fireworks was a provocative, albeit hypothetical, point of constitutional interpretation – would the U.S. president need Congress’ permission before launching an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities?

Responding first, Romney said as president, “you sit down with your attorneys” to determine whether such authorization is needed, but he said, “Obviously, the president of the United States has to do what’s in the best interest of the United States to protect us against a potential threat.”

So Romney said that before attacking Iran, he’d want to know if he had the legal authority to do so without Congress, but then strongly suggested that he’d probably do it anyway. As Stephanie Cutter explained, only a weak loser would care whether he actually has the legal authority under the Constitution to start a war without Congressional approval (President Obama showed the Tough Commander-in-Chief Stuff of which he’s made when he prosecuted a war even once Congress affirmatively refused to authorize it).

Of course, Candidate Obama, in 2007, when asked as part of an executive power questionnaire if a President could attack Iran without Congress, consulted with a long list of lawyers to prepare his response and, concerning that specific issue, said: “the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” During the campaign, candidate Obama vowed: “No more ignoring the law when it’s inconvenient. That is not who we are. . . . We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers.” Hillary Clinton co-sponsored legislation to ban President Bush from attacking Iran without the approval of Congress. Joe Biden actually threatened to impeach Bush if he attacked Iran without Congressional approval.

Yes, Mr. Obama, you have proven that you can out-executive power even the Republicans. This may be something you think is good for you politically, but it is not something to be proud of. You have turned the Republicans’ zeal for an unrestrained executive branch that ignores the constitution and the rule of law into a matter of bipartisan consensus. What is good for your career has been very bad for everyone else.

2 comments

  1. 1
    Michael Heath

    Ed concludes:

    Yes, Mr. Obama, you have proven that you can out-executive power even the Republicans. This may be something you think is good for you politically, but it is not something to be proud of. You have turned the Republicans’ zeal for an unrestrained executive branch that ignores the constitution and the rule of law into a matter of bipartisan consensus. What is good for your career has been very bad for everyone else.

    I disagree with this conclusion. First your comparing Obama the president to Romney the candidate. On this issue you should compare Obama the president to past presidents. What we find is that presidents act unilaterally, where a usually impotent Congress is the chief enabler of a unilateral executive. I have no confidence that Romney’s debate answer in ’08 would largely influence how he acted as president for the same reason we see other presidents fail to honor their rhetoric on this matter once they’re president.

    I think history shows that its safe to assume that Romney the president would act just like past presidents as well, which would be to act in a manner they prefer within a framework where Congress may be incapable of weighing-in. A framework where politics is predominant though not necessarily the only factor, e.g., Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan would have occurred no matter who the president was, it was the only feasible response though not necessarily the optimal response.

    Now I find such unilateral behavior reprehensible. But most of the time my ire is directed at Congress and not the president. I’m not an ardent student on the topic but it seems to me the guy who acted within his bounds was President H.W. Bush when Iraq invaded Kuwait. However he didn’t suffer from the type of obstructionism Clinton or Obama suffer from either.

    I also recall reading about a House vote just prior to the U.S. entering WWII as reported by Jon Meachum in his wonderful book about the interactions between Winston Churchill and FDR. FDR realized the fascist threat to the U.S. and the world at large conservatives denied existed and did everything an executive could do to support Britain with little help from Congress. The last House vote to install a draft just passed by one mere vote. Imagine the negative repercussion to the U.S. if that vote had failed.

  2. 2
    slc1

    I’m sure that Mr. Greenwald is going to get his pants all twisted up next week when Bibi comes to town, as will Andrew Sullivan who is clearly over the top (see attached link). It should be noted that, on the subject of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, the positions of the president and the Congress are entirely reversed. The president is reluctant to attack Iran while, at least rhetorically, Congress is all gung ho to start the bombs falling, egged on by Bibi.

    http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/02/obamas-most-dangerous-gop-opponent-netanyahu.html

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