On this first occasion of addressing Congress since, by the choice of my constituents, I have entered on a second term of administration, I embrace the opportunity to give this public assurance that I will exert my best endeavors to administer faithfully the executive department, and will zealously cooperate with you in every measure which may tend to secure the liberty, property, and personal safety of our fellow-citizens, and to consolidate the republican forms and principles of our Government.
— President Thomas Jefferson, Fifth Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1805
That’s the good thing as a President; I can do whatever I want.
— President Barack Obama speaking to French President François Hollande on the grounds of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate, February 10, 2014
I have a work colleague with whom I frequently discuss our present state of affairs. He is unabashedly conservative and will tell anyone who will listen that President Obama has repeatedly violated the Constitution and ought to be impeached (although he realizes the chances of this coming to pass are remote). Another work colleague who is generally apolitical will nevertheless occasionally chime in and say, somewhat jokingly, “Obama is the king. He can do whatever he wants, pal.” In light of President Obama’s remarks to President Hollande this past week, it would appear my apolitical associate understands President Obama’s mindset far more than we both appreciated.
President Obama’s remarks have been characterized as a joke, but the joke is on us. The same day Obama told Hollande he could do whatever he want… he did exactly that. Obama once again circumvented Congress and delayed the employer mandate for Obamacare. It marked the 28th time President Obama has unilaterally changed Obamacare since his re-election without the consent of Congress.
The 44th President hasn’t confined his unilateral behavior to Obamacare. President Obama has bypassed Congress where it concerned our military involvement in Libya, in offering amnesty to illegal immigrants and making recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Consumer Protection Board (CPB) when Congress is not in recess. As Charles Krauthammer put it last August:
Such gross executive usurpation disdains the Constitution. It mocks the separation of powers. And most consequentially, it introduces a fatal instability into law itself. If the law is not what is plainly written, but is whatever the president and his agents decide, what’s left of the law?
It’s true that Obama isn’t the first President who has exceeded the authority bestowed to him under the Article Two of the Constitution. This brings me back to Thomas Jefferson, the man on whose property which Obama declared his independence from said Constitution. The signature achievement of the Jefferson Administration was the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the United States. Yet at the time many considered this achievement unconstitutional. Among those who considered the Louisiana Purchase unconstitutional was none other than Jefferson himself. Consider what John Yoo, a Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General during the Bush 43 Administration, wrote in a 2008 Boston University Law Review article titled “Jefferson and Executive Power”:
But in order to buy Louisiana, Jefferson had to change his vision of the Constitution. Initially, Jefferson had believed the Constitution did not permit the acquisition of new territory or its incorporation into the Union as new States. Even before he had sent Monroe to France, Jefferson had raised doubts before his cabinet about the constitutionality of adding territory to the Union. Surprisingly, the Constitution has no express provision providing for the addition of territory.
However, unlike President Obama’s unilateral changes to Obamacare, Congress would give its blessing to the Louisiana Purchase. More importantly, Jefferson actually concerned himself with the constitutional implications of expanding American territory. For President Obama, however, the ends justify the means and thus the Constitution never enters into consideration be it about Obamacare, illegal immigration, military intervention or recess appointments. Three days before the Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase, President Jefferson stated in his annual message to Congress:
I anticipate with satisfaction the measures of wisdom which the great interests now committed to you will give you an opportunity of providing, and myself that of approving and of carrying into execution with the fidelity I owe to my country.
I think it is safe to say that while Thomas Jefferson never told any visiting head of state that he could do whatever he wanted while walking the grounds of Monticello. Could you imagine how Jefferson’s Federalist rivals would have reacted if he did? Fast forward two centuries later, how would the left have responded if George W. Bush had said he could whatever he wanted as President?
Speaking of President Bush, I recall attending separate talks given by Watergate figure John Dean and feminist author Naomi Wolf in the fall of 2007. Both insisted that Bush would not leave office on January 20, 2009. I knew this to be utter rubbish and the Bush presidency ended on schedule.
With this in mind, Rush Limbaugh raised the possibility that Obama won’t leave office on January 20, 2017:
Now they’re delaying the thing until after Obama’s gone, although what evidence do we have that Obama’s leaving? “Well, Rush, I mean the constitution says…” Yeah? And the Constitution also says he can’t do what he’s doing here. The text of Obamacare specifically prohibits what Obama is doing.
When I first heard of Rush’s claim, my reaction was one of skepticism. I am surprised that Rush, of all people, is underestimating the ambition of Hillary Clinton. She wants to be President more than life itself and 2016 is probably her last chance. If Obama were to stay in office beyond his term then it would be a classic case of hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Nevertheless, there is merit in what Rush is saying. If President Obama can unilaterally amend Obamacare, engage in military intervention, give amnesty to illegal immigrants and make recess appointments while Congress is not in recess, then what is to keep him from remaining at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue past January 20, 2017 if his socialist heart so desires?
Presidents Day might be a holiday in America, but we might not get a holiday from President Obama.