Tag Archives: executive branch

Trump remains ignorant of the U.S. Constitution

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is a first-year member of the U.S. House of Representatives, who happens to serve on the House Judiciary Committee.

She is a Democrat from Florida who is likely to vote “yes” on articles of impeachment against Donald John Trump. She is a native of Ecuador.

The congresswoman offered an obvious observation today, which is that “I don’t think the president has ever read the Constitution.”

Gee, do ya think?

I happen to virtually certain he’s never looked at it. If he has, then he looked past Article II, the segment dealing with executive authority, or the power of the presidency. He infamously referenced Article II not that long ago when he declared that it enables the president to do whatever he wants.

No. It does not! Not even close. Indeed, Article II spells out the limits of executive authority. Indeed, Article I — which deals with the legislative branch of government — implies heavily that the executive branch’s powers are kept on a tight leash.

Rep. Mucarsel-Powell’s instincts are correct. Trump took office without dedicating a single moment of his entire pre-political life to public service. He didn’t understand government when he ran for the presidency and doesn’t understand it now that he is president.

Donald Trump sounds and acts like someone who fancies himself as The Boss. He isn’t. You’re the boss. As am I … the boss. We call the shots. Not him.

Had he ever thought for a moment about the U.S. Constitution, the document he took an oath to “defend and protect,” he might understand the limitations it places on the presidency.

I do not believe he has done that. I also believe his ignorance of the Constitution is precisely the reason the House of Representatives is going to impeach him.

Trump to Sen. Graham: ‘I am the boss’

It took me a moment or two to digest the quote I read about what Donald Trump reportedly said to Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican U.S. senator who transformed himself from a severe Trump critic to one of the president’s most ardent sycophants.

Graham is angry over the president’s decision to pull troops out of Syria and his abandoning of our Kurdish allies who have fought with us in the war against the Islamic State.

The Associated Press said that Trump told Graham, “I am the boss.”

The boss? Of what? Of whom?

Trump is the “boss” of the executive branch of the federal government. He has no authority over the legislative branch, of which Graham is one of 535 House and Senate members. The Constitution grants Congress “co-equal” power with the executive branch.

Graham, despite his disappointing fealty to Trump, does recognize that South Carolina’s voters sent him to the Senate to do their bidding and to stand up for himself when the need arises. He doesn’t work for Trump. He doesn’t have to do a single thing the president might demand of him.

As an MSNBC blogger, Steve Benen, reported: “With all due respect for the president, I think I’m elected to have a say about our national security,” Graham said. “I will not be quiet. I will do everything I can to help the president get to a good spot, but if we do not leave some residual forces behind to partner with the Kurds, ISIS will come back, it will put our nation at risk, we will have been seen as dishonorable in the eyes of all future allies.”

So, there you have it. Sen. Graham is beginning to show a bit of the spine he exhibited while campaigning against Donald Trump for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. I hope it continues to stiffen … although I am inclined to doubt that it will.

Mr. Sam knew his place

BONHAM, Texas — The plaque pictured here offers an important civics lesson. It tells of the late Sam Rayburn’s role as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and also as a rank-and-file member of the legislative branch of the federal government.

The great Mr. Sam said he didn’t work “under” eight presidents, but that he worked “with” them. Listen up! Pay attention!

Too many presidents over many decades have fancied themselves as bigger than their office, occupying an office bigger and more powerful and meaningful than the other two co-equal branches of government.

Yes, Donald Trump, I refer to you as well.

Rayburn served in the House with eight presidents, the first of whom was Woodrow Wilson; the last of them was John F. Kennedy. Rayburn died in November 1961.

He was the Man of the House, even when he wasn’t pounding the gavel as its speaker.

I came back to the Rayburn Library and Museum today to show my visiting brother-in-law — who is quite a student of history — this place my wife (his sister) and I visited for the first time just a few weeks ago.

I didn’t see the plaque on our first visit. I feel compelled to offer these few words as a tribute to the understanding that Speaker Rayburn had about Congress and its role as a partner in the making of laws that govern all Americans. He was a student of government and knew he was duty bound to work within the system, reaching across the partisan divide, to find common ground in search of the common good.

There is a huge lesson that needs to be learned in the present day. Donald Trump, then the Republican nominee for president, declared in the summer of 2016 that “I, alone” can repair the things that he said were ailing the country. Uh, Mr. President, good government is most definitely a team sport, requiring all branches of government — even the judiciary — to play a role in the crafting and interpretation of law.

Sam Rayburn knew what has been lost on occasion in the present day. Legislators dig in against the president, who digs in against the men and women who serve in Congress. Nothing gets done. They all seek to declare political victory, when in reality they all fail.

Given that we have only one president at a time, the onus for failure — at least in my mind — falls on the doofus in the White House at the moment.

I cannot stop thinking at this moment how the great Sam Rayburn would react to the bullying and showboating he would witness from down the street at the White House.

My guess? He wouldn’t stand for it.

Let the power struggle commence … and play out

A power struggle between the legislative and the executive branches of the federal government is now in full swing.

I am going to side — no surprise here — with the legislative branch in its fight with the other guys.

Attorney General William Barr — quite likely with the full blessing of the president of the United States — has decided to be a no-show at today’s House Judiciary Committee hearing. The committee, controlled by Democrats, wants to know more about Barr’s receipt of the report filed in March by special counsel Robert Mueller III on the matter involving “collusion” and “obstruction of justice” with regard to the Trump campaign’s involvement with Russians.

Barr has the answers. He is not giving the House committee any of them.

The struggle involves whether the House controls the parameters of these hearings or whether the White House gets to choose which rules it will follow and which of them it will ignore.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler says the House is in charge. He says the White House cannot dictate how Congress does its job. He points out correctly that Article I of the U.S. Constitution lays out Congress’s exclusive power and declares that the legislative and executive branches are “co-equal,” meaning that neither branch is more powerful than the other.

Barr stayed away because he didn’t want to be quizzed by committee lawyers. Cry me a river, Mr. Attorney General.

The way I see it, that’s just too damn bad.

The House gets to call the shots here. Not the AG. Not the POTUS.

Barr’s appearance Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary panel raised many questions that House members want to flesh out, as if they didn’t have a full plate of questions already. One of those questions might be why Barr didn’t read the supporting evidence that Mueller provided in his full report before issuing his four-page summary of its findings.

We won’t hear from the AG, at least not yet. Nadler says he is considering whether to file a contempt of Congress citation against the attorney general.

He is allowed to do that, too. The Constitution gives the chairman that power.

The struggle is on.

Gratuitous Liar in Chief strikes again

Donald Trump has shown just how incapable he is of telling the truth.

The president of the United States has enormous power within the executive branch of government. He knows it. I know it. You know it. He can do virtually anything he wants, providing he isn’t breaking the law.

Granting security clearances, even to those who don’t deserve them, is fully within the president’s power as the nation’s chief executive.

Why, though, does the president of the United States — Donald John Trump — have to lie about whether he interceded to get his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a top-secret security clearance?

He said he didn’t do it. He insisted he didn’t force anyone to grant Kushner such a clearance.

But . . . but, he has the power! He would be acting totally within his authority to do so. And he did do what he is empowered to do. By lying about whether he intervened on Kushner’s behalf, the president has doubled his trouble.

Sure, he could be criticized for greasing the clearance for Kushner. Why? Because his son-in-law has no security credentials. He doesn’t deserve access to the kind of information he gets with such a clearance.

Now, though, the president is getting pummeled because he is demonstrating his penchant for gratuitous lying.

SCOTUS chief to POTUS: No such thing as partisan judges

Listen up, Mr. President. Sit up straight and pay attention. The chief justice of the United States of America is speaking words of wisdom.

Chief Justice John Roberts has informed you, Donald Trump, that the country doesn’t have “Obama judges, or Bush judges or Clinton judges.” The federal judiciary, he reminded all of us in a statement issued today, is an independent branch of the government. The men and women who adjudicate cases must be free of partisan consideration, such as the individual who nominated them to whatever bench where they sit.

It’s a rare event to have the chief justice admonish a politician, Mr. President. Congratulations, you’ve stirred the pot!

The chief is admonishing you for those intemperate remarks you keep making about judges. You had the gall to refer to a U.S.-born federal jurist as a “Mexican” only because he is of Mexican heritage; the judge was ruling against your anti-immigration efforts. You referred to another judge based in Hawaii as a “so-called judge” because he knocked down your Muslim travel ban. Another judge who ruled against your recent asylum ban became an “Obama judge.”

Thus, the chief justice got riled enough to speak out against your careless references to the men and women who sit on our federal bench.

Perhaps he’s ticked that you criticized him directly for his vote in 2012 to preserve the Affordable Care Act. That makes it even worse, Mr. President.

You, Mr. President, keep demonstrating an absolute and unwavering ignorance of the roles that the co-equal branches of government play. You don’t understand the limits of your own executive power, or the limitations placed on the legislative and judicial branches of government. Your habitual loud mouth and careless rhetoric underscore your own ignorance of the governmental framework you took an oath to “preserve, protect and defend.”

I am glad to know that Chief Justice Roberts has called you out, although his language — quite understandably — was measured and scholarly.

I know you won’t learn from this. I just had to weigh in anyway.

Mr. President, you simply scare the spit out of me.

Trump still doesn’t get his ownership of issues

This comes as no new great news flash. I’ve known it all along. So have you.

Donald Trump today demonstrated with absolute clarity that he doesn’t understand a fundamental tenet of governing. It is that effective governance at the highest levels is a team sport.

The president signed that $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill. While announcing his signature this morning, Trump laid some heavy lumber on Congress, namely congressional Democrats. He blamed them for wanting to gut our military; he blamed them for opposing reforms on illegal immigration.

He blamed Congress for sending him a huge bill that “nobody has read,” yet he signed it anyway. Trump said he’d “never sign” another bill like this ever again.

What one never hears from this guy is that he is a player, too, in government’s fits and starts, its occasional paralysis. He does not fathom how effective government is supposed to work. It is designed to bring the executive branch and the legislative into the same room, to reach common ground, to compromise where possible.

Does this individual get it? No. He doesn’t. Trump continues to lay blame at everyone else’s feet. He continues to assert that the other guys are at fault. The other guys, in this case, are lawmakers of the other party.

The president’s business background did not prepare him for the delicate nature of legislating and negotiating with legislators. He’s always been the Big Man in Charge. It’s always been his game to win.

I keep circling back to this fundamental shortcoming in Donald Trump’s shocking ascent to the presidency: His entire professional career was centered solely, exclusively on self-enrichment, on self-aggrandizement and self-promotion.

Every time he opens his trap, every time he tweets out pronouncements and proclamations, we are “treated” to evidence of his utter lack of knowledge and understanding of how government works.

The president needs to take ownership of the failures that come along, just as he is all too willing to take ownership of the successes.

Once again, this morning, Donald Trump showed that he doesn’t understand — nor is he likely to ever understand — the immense complexities of his high office.

What has the president learned in 100 days?

Let’s turn away for a moment from what Donald Trump might have accomplished during his first 100 days as president to what he might have learned during that time.

The president’s list of accomplishments is pretty damn skimpy.

His learning curve, though, has been steep. I hope it’s beginning to flatten out.

What’s the most glaring eye-opener for the president? It’s that you cannot run the federal government the way you run a business.

At virtually every turn along the way since taking office, the president has been forced to swallow that bitter pill. A man who became used to getting his way because he demands it has learned that the federal government is structured — on purpose — to function on an entirely different set of dynamics.

The nation’s founders crafted a brilliant governing document. When you think about it, while the U.S. Constitution grants the president significant executive authority, it does not imbue the office with ultimate governing authority. The founders divvied up power among three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial.

It’s that darn legislative branch — the U.S. Congress — that has a say in what becomes law. Donald Trump’s business experience doesn’t mean squat to many of the 535 men and women who comprise both chambers of Congress. They, too, have their constituencies to which they must answer. Yes, the president represents the nation, but Congress — as a body — also represents the very same nation.

Can you govern the nation like a business? No. Never. Not a zillion years.

Trump needs to understand that governance is a team sport. He cannot threaten members of Congress if they resist his legislative proposals. He cannot exclude members of the “other” party from key negotiations. He must abandon the “I, alone” mantra — which he bellowed at the Republican National Convention this past summer — that threatens to haunt him for as long as he is president.

And then there’s the judicial branch. The federal judiciary comprises individuals who hold lifetime appointed jobs. Their mission is to ensure that laws do not violate the Constitution. The founders granted them independence from the executive and legislative government branches.

Those judges have the constitutional authority to knock down executive orders, or to put the brakes on laws enacted by Congress. They aren’t “so-called judges” whose status as “unelected” jurists doesn’t diminish their authority.

I hope the president has learned at least some elements of all this during his first 100 days. If he doesn’t, then we’re all going to be in for an extremely rough ride.

However, we’re all just spectators. The president will need to hold on with both hands if he has any chance of getting anything done during his time in office.

We are witnessing the consequence of electing someone with zero public service experience. Mr. President, the federal government bears no resemblance — none! — to the businesses you built.


President Barack Obama has chided the Supreme Court over its decision to hear a case involving the Affordable Care Act.

Some critics, of course, suggest the criticism is out of bounds, that the president is trying to “bully” the nine justices who could strike down a key provision in the ACA. Bully those men and women? I don’t think so.


Obama says the court was wrong to take up a case in the first place. The case, to be ruled on perhaps in just a matter of days, involves the legality of the federal subsidies used to help pay for Americans’ health care. An estimated 6.4 million Americans’ health insurance policies are at risk if the court strikes down the subsidy.

Now the president has declared the ACA to be a “reality,” it is law and it is part of the American fabric of providing health insurance to those who need it.

Is he right to challenge the court? Of course he is.

Just as critics chide the president for ignoring the separation of powers contained in the Constitution, they ignore the obvious notion that the separation argument goes the other direction. By that I mean that the judiciary, as a co-equal branch of government, isn’t immune from criticism from another branch of government. Indeed, the legislative branch — Congress — hardly is shy about criticizing the executive and the judiciary when either of those branches of government steer in what lawmakers suggest is the “wrong direction.”

Where the president misfired, in my view, in his criticism of the Supreme Court was when he did so during his 2010 State of the Union speech. With several court members sitting in front of him, surrounded by other administration and military officials, not to mention a packed chamber full of lawmakers, the president said the court was wrong in its Citizens United ruling that took the shackles off of campaign contributors. Whatever criticism the court deserved, that was neither the time or the place to deliver it.

So, the fight goes on between Barack Obama the nine men and women who hold the fate of his signature domestic policy achievement in their hands.