Civil Liberties

The Imperial Vice-Presidency

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Just how much power does Dick Cheney think the executive branch should have? The Boston Globe's Charlie Savage has written an illuminating review of the VP's views, which have been pretty constant from the '60s to today. Put simply, Cheney doesn't like it when Congress restricts the executive, and he believes the White House is free to ignore laws that allegedly overstep the legislature's authority.

For example:

After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Bush sent 500,000 US troops to Saudi Arabia. As they prepared to attack the Iraqi forces, Cheney told Bush that it was unnecessary and too risky to seek a vote in Congress.

"I was not enthusiastic about going to Congress for an additional grant of authority," Cheney recalled in a 1996 PBS "Frontline" documentary. "I was concerned that they might well vote 'no' and that would make life more difficult for us."

But Bush rejected Cheney's advice and asked Congress for a vote in support of the war. The resolution passed—barely. Had Congress voted no, Cheney later said, he would have urged Bush to launch the Gulf War regardless.

"From a constitutional standpoint, we had all the authority we needed," Cheney said in the 1996 documentary. "If we'd lost the vote in Congress, I would certainly have recommended to the president that we go forward anyway."

If you're wondering how much these ideas have influenced the younger Bush, look no further than the president's signing statements.

[Via Glenn Greenwald.]

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  1. Cheney doesn’t like it when Congress restricts the executive, and he believes the White House is free to ignore laws that allegedly overstep the legislature’s authority,

    It’s been a few decades since the executive has fought back against encroachment of its powers. Why isn’t that good?

    Voters get the last word on what the right balance is, with courts and legislature and executive claims on each other.

    Congress can, after all, remove the President whenever it wants ; but even then it answers to voters pretty quickly for it.

    You’d think the libertarian position would be to strive for the perfect balance rather than claiming priority for the legislature.

  2. Should President Bush have 12 lictors or 24 lictors preceding him?

  3. “…Bush rejected Cheney’s advice….”

    There’s one you don’t hear very often.

  4. According to the article, Cheney believes that the executive branch has “inherent” powers not found in the Constitution. And this guy claims to be a “conservative”??? Calvin Coolidge is spinning in his grave.

  5. I guess Cheney doesn’t read the Constitution. The power to declare war is reserved to Congress, not the President.

  6. Ron,
    It isn’t good because the executive was never supposed to have those powers to begin with. The current level of executive power would be horrifying to the framers.
    And I’m not advocating that the legislature be the primary power either. The veto is a pretty effective check on the legislature, if the President actually uses it.

  7. Ron H.

    What you propose is mostly fine except in the case of war. We are out of whack with the plain language of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. Even the War Powers Act has been insufficient to prevent the POTUS from engaging us in conflicts where the use of our military has been in a specious “national interest”. The lack of a formal declaration is one of the reasons we are in this mess in Iraq. If GWB had to go to Congress for a declaration, it never would have happened.

    In this one man’s opinion, short of NORAD scoping inbound ICBMs, POTUS should have to go to the well each and every time.

  8. Put simply, Cheney doesn’t like it when Congress restricts the executive, and he believes the White House is free to ignore laws that allegedly overstep the legislature’s authority.
    And yet he’ll squeal like a stuck pig when us mere mortals ignore laws that overstep the government’s authority.
    Liberty for me, but not for thee!

  9. The lack of a formal declaration is one of the reasons we are in this mess in Iraq.

    Congress signed off on the Iraq debacle.

    Interestingly, Congress has helped create the executive monster by passing all manner of open-ended legislation that gave federal agencies huge regulatory discretion. The rise of undeclared “police actions” is merely the cherry topping the cake.

  10. Congress is owned by the same people who own the presidency, and that’s not in the constitution either.

  11. Comment 1: The lack of a formal declaration is one of the reasons we are in this mess in Iraq.

    Comment 2: Congress signed off on the Iraq debacle.

    Yay! An authorization to use force if all else fails is now the same thing as a constitutional declaration of war. See? Both sides were to blame!

  12. Cathy, I don’t see what difference it would have made if the same congresspersons had voted for a “declaration of war” versus whatever legislation it was they actually passed to authorize force. Either way, they were in on it.

    I wasn’t attempting to say that “both sides were to blame,” but merely pointing out that the Iraq war isn’t a particularly good example of the Imperial Presidency, since Congress gave its imprimatur to the damned thing. There are plenty of relevant examples of executive overreach without relying on a poor one And for the record, I firmly believe that the executive wields far too much power at present.

  13. Sorry, I was posting under my real name, Henry Cabot Lodge. Didn’t know you had dead people around here, eh?

  14. Goddamn, would it be so much to ask our elected officials to at least read the Constitution?

    That next heart attack just can’t come soon enough.

  15. In this one man’s opinion, short of NORAD scoping inbound ICBMs, POTUS should have to go to the well each and every time.

    Jerry Pournelle had an interesting discussion of this issue on his website. According to him, traditionally the President had “control” over the Navy and Marines, and Congress over the Army. The President could use the Navy and Marines without Congressional approval, but the size and nature of the forces limited his ability to prosecute a war. To actually go to war would involve asking Congress for funding, to activate the Army and get it up to full strength (before WWII, the Regular Army was a cadre of professionals who would be able to lead conscripts in time of war). The reorganization in 1947 killed all of that. Note especially the renaming from “Department of War” to “Department of Defense.” Now the President has complete control of a standing, professional army, as well as control of the navy, Marines, and air force, at any time.

    IMO, a draft under this scenario wouldn’t be too bad. It would be limited to when Congress had actually declared war. Probably we could more than get by without a draft, considering the number of people who would volunteer should the need arise, but at least you wouldn’t get drafted to go into Bosnia or Iraq to defend the “national interest.”

  16. Cathy, how is it that if Congress gives the President the authority to go to war, they are not doing their constitutional duty as precribed in Article 1?

    I have to point out comment 1 is false. The mess is a result of 1. Doing a war on the cheap. Not enough troops. 2. Failure to control the rioting and looting from the start. 2. Failure to listen to the CIA about Iraq post invasion. 3. Arrogance from the Bush admin. And many more. But it’s simply false to think that a “more formal” declaration of war would have prevented the problems we are seeing in Iraq. It would have changed NOTHING about how the Bush admin executed the war.

    Foxxy, not only is it too much to ask of our elected officials. It also too much to ask of the citizenry to ensure our elected officials have read the Constitution.

    The voter is the final link in the oversight chain.

  17. he believes the White House is free to ignore laws that allegedly overstep the legislature’s authority

    Aren’t we all? Isn’t that what “unconstitutional” means?

    I just love the people who get all hung up on the magic words “declaration of war”, as if only those six syllables can ever justify a US soldier pulling a trigger in anger.

    I’m probably one of the strictest constructionists you’ll ever meet (I actually believe that the federal government has only enumerated powers; how quaint is that?) and I have no problem with an authorization for the use of military force as the substantial equivalent of the Six Magic Syllables.

  18. It would be fascinating (in a very scary way) to be a fly on the wall of Dick Cheney’s id for an hour or two.

  19. “It would be fascinating (in a very scary way) to be a fly on the wall of Dick Cheney’s id for an hour or two.”

    Well, I’m afreud there certainly wouldn’t be room for a fly in his superego.

  20. The authorization to use force was several months before we actually were prepared to go in and the mealy-mouths will state (e.g., Kerry) that is not what they meant. I’ll retract my earlier statement about “never would have happened” since the sycophants in Congress had (and still have) no balls to stand up to a “popular” executive.

    That not withstanding, I want nothing less than full-throated national security interests at stake with Congress’ full “declaration” that that is why we are committing American lives and treasure. POTUS has entirely too much latitude to start this shit, almost on a whim. I am still fearful that Bush/Cheney are going to find a way to engage Iran before they check out and leave the wreckage to others.

    By the way, I hold Congress no less accountable for the Iraq mess (I voted against every incumbent that I could), but it is at it’s genesis, apex, and nadir, GWB’s “war”.

  21. If I supported invading Iraq, I would have been furious at Bush for getting an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (ie, Congress telling the President “You decide, it’s your call”) instead of a Declaration of War (ie, Congress saying “We approve the decision to go to war.”)

    Going the former route gives everyone who approved it a license to withdraw their support as soon as the war becomes controversial, without having to renounce their position. What a nice present for the troops in the field, eh?

    Like the hyping of WMD and Al Qaeda/Saddam intelligence, it was a shoddy trick that the White House assumed they’d never have to answer for, because the inevitable quick victory was going to render the issue moot. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way, did it?

    Worst. President. Ever.

  22. Just a quick note… The “Cathy Young” post above is not mine. (Had I been inclined to post in this thread, I hope I would have come up with something better.)

  23. i love cheese

  24. did i ever tell you i don’t wear underwear

  25. well only sometimes? i like to wear thongs when i’m at home by myself? the good thing is that my house has walls made out of mirrors. i bet would like that you sick bastard

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