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Gridlock Is Good


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When House Republicans stand in the way of President Obama, it means they’re taking their constitutional duties seriously.

Reihan Salam



President Obama is furious about congressional gridlock. In a press conference last week, he chastised the Republican-led House of Representatives for refusing to support the bipartisan immigration bill that was passed out of the Senate last June. “The argument isn’t between me and the House Republicans,” the president said. “It’s between the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans, and House Republicans and the business community, and House Republicans and the evangelical community.” The president then insisted that intransigence on the part of House Republicans was forcing his hand: “In circumstances where even basic, common-sense, plain, vanilla legislation can’t pass because House Republicans consider it somehow a compromise of their principles, or giving Obama a victory, then we’ve got to take action.”


This is part of a recurring pattern: With Republicans in control of the House, President Obama has found it all but impossible to move his domestic agenda forward through legislative means. And so, according to his conservative critics, he has stretched his powers to the limit via a series of executive actions. Josh Blackman of the South Texas College of Law has accused the president of using congressional intransigence as an excuse to “suspend, waive, and even rewrite statutes.” In 2012, for example, the president announced a sweeping deferred action for millions of unauthorized immigrants who came to the United States as children. These women and men would be shielded from the threat of deportation, and they’d be allowed to apply for employment authorization. More recently, the Obama administration has reportedly considered extending this treatment to millions of other unauthorized immigrants whose relatives are U.S. citizens. Ross Douthat of the New York Times warned that by flouting Congress on immigration enforcement, the president is inching ever closer to “domestic Caesarism.”


To be sure, the president has his defenders. One of them, Slate contributor Eric Posner of the University of Chicago Law School, maintains that it is Congress, not the president, that is undermining constitutional norms. “If Congress cannot pass any laws because of gridlock,” Posner writes in the New Republic, “then it has violated its obligations under the Constitution, and accordingly the president has the right to use his enforcement powers to implement policies that serve the public interest.” It is Posner’s view that appears to come closest to the president’s: If House Republicans are standing in his way, he’s left with little choice but to take action.




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