Over the past decade executive power has (rightly) gotten a lot of negative scrutiny, due mostly to the Bush Administration pushing the boundaries to prosecute the “war on terror”. Although Obama banned the use of torture immediately upon entering office, he too has been accused of using his presidential powers in extra-constitutional ways—much to the chagrin of the Left. (I tend not to agree on this point; although the President has pursued an aggressive campaign against terrorists, including against some American citizens, his actions seem to me both measured and Constitutional.)
But executive authority extends beyond national security interests, and the Obama Administration has adeptly used this power to promote civil rights and Obama’s larger domestic agenda. Given a Republican Congress unwilling to compromise on almost anything, exercising this power has been critical.
Some of the best examples: extending federal benefits to same-sex domestic partners, enacting new fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, enacting new mercury standards that promise to save thousands of lives and improve infant health, tying foreign aid to respect for gay rights, and using its judicial powers to invalidate Republican efforts to limit voting rights.
And just this week the Administration announced a new immigration policy meant to improve the lives of potentially hundreds of thousands of immigrant families. Before the change, legal immigrants married to illegal immigrants or with children that were illegal faced an immigration process that often involved years of forced separation. Under the changed rules, illegal family members will still have return to their home countries and reapply for U.S. entry—but they’ll get waivers that will greatly reduce their time away. The new rules are also an incentive for more people to come out of the shadows and apply for U.S. citizenship.
This change comes while Republicans adamantly oppose any easing of the rules for illegal immigrants currently in the country. They even filibustered the DREAM Act at the end of 2010, which would’ve done nothing more than allow the children of illegal immigrants who have spent their lives in the U.S. to attend U.S. public universities (and not even be eligible for financial aid).
Also just a few days ago, President Obama used his executive authority to recess-appoint Richard Cordray as the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Republicans were refusing to confirm Cordray, or any nominee, in a blatant attempt to nullify a key part of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform (which passed by a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate). Obama timed Cordray’s appointment to allow him to remain in his post until the end of 2013. While the timing raises legal issues that will likely be challenged in court, Obama deserves credit for pushing the boundaries. Using procedural tactics never meant for that purpose, the GOP was trying to block a Congressionally-passed law from ever going into effect.
It would be much better if we lived at a time when Congress was committed to promoting the public interest and doing its job, but we are not; the House and Senate are filled with extremist Republicans who put politics before country.
But controlling the presidency does matter, and President Obama should be applauded for using his executive authority in several ways to improve the lives of millions of Americans.