Among Barack Obama’s many regrettable legacies, perhaps the most regrettable is the way he has normalized the abuse of executive power. Time and again, on issue after issue, Obama has flouted constitutional limits and/or the rule of law. We saw this with the auto bailout, with recess appointments, with immigration, with welfare reform, with the No Child Left Behind Act, with the Affordable Care Act, with energy and environmental regulations, with drug enforcement, with Title IX and transgender bathroom rules, and with other issues.
As National Review’s David French writes: “Barack Obama’s constitutional legacy can be summed up in just five words — the ends justify the means. Frustrated by congressional resistance and either unable or unwilling to compromise, the Obama administration repeatedly circumvented the constitutional law making process to attempt to achieve the outcomes it wanted. In other words, so long as it got the right result, the administration didn't seem to care about the process.”
For example: The same president who in 2011 said, “With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed” — that same president subsequently used executive actions to create multiple amnesty programs for millions of illegal immigrants. The courts later blocked Obama’s 2014 Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program (commonly known as “DAPA”), along with his attempted expansion of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (or “DACA”).
As the immigration example demonstrates, Obama’s reliance on executive power grabs has made many parts of his legacy quite fragile. “If you govern by executive orders,” Donald Trump campaign adviser Stephen Moore told the New Yorker a few months ago, “then the next President can come in and overturn them.”
Beyond correcting Obama’s excesses, Trump should aim to make the presidency — as an institution — less powerful. Doing so would help restore America’s proper constitutional order, would revitalize the legislative branch, and would thereby strengthen our democracy.
Here’s French: “A generation of flawed statutes and flawed Supreme Court precedents have given the president far too much power. President Trump should act to limit his own power and restore our nation’s checks and balances, even if that means giving up a favored policy. To use the language of the election, constitutional processes were indispensable to making America great, and rediscovering and enforcing those processes can make America great again.”