The End of Superpresident?

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As farcical as the Iraq "surge" debate in Congress is, the WaPo's Michael Abramowitz wonders whether it's the start of a 1970s-style tug-of-war between Congress and the president, on which branch has which powers.

White House press secretary Tony Snow declined to be drawn into a discussion with reporters yesterday about whether such provisions would be "micromanaging" the war—which some scholars think would be unconstitutional. The new White House counsel, Fred F. Fielding, is considered a pragmatist not particularly interested in new fights with Congress, but administration allies in the conservative legal world predicted that the White House would eventually chafe at such restrictions.

"The administration might try to be as accommodating as possible on issues short of a complete shutdown of the war, but if Congress clamps down on a core commander-in-chief power that the president thinks might be necessary to use in the war on terrorism, I do not think pragmatism will prevail," said one former top administration lawyer, who conditioned his comments on anonymity.

David B. Rivkin Jr., a White House lawyer in the George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan administrations, described the proposed congressional restrictions as the "epitome of micromanagement." He said he thinks "the White House will end up fighting the congressional micromanagement and, if it continues, will publicly articulate the view that it is unconstitutional and not binding on the executive."

Others speculate that Bush may be backpedaling a bit from his broad assertions of presidential power, some of which the Supreme Court rejected last summer when it struck down his plan for trying terrorism suspects in military tribunals.

Meanwhile, the ThinkProgress bloggers uncover more evidence that Republican congressfolks' brains have been cooking out in the sun too long.

NEXT: Forget About Opening that Sex Toys 'R' Us Franchise in Alabama Anytime Soon

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  1. I don’t see the upside of CONgress having more power than the president. We lose either way because, in either case, there is too much power for my simple tastes.

  2. So i guess…

    What? Iraq is like a beautiful, but dissatisfied, woman. And we can’t leave until she gets her cookies. Damn. She’s starting to get pretty pissed off, too.

    Good luck, federal government. I hope you have enough viagra.

    P.S. herb works better than viagra if you didn’t know that already.

  3. Faster than a speeding subpeona.

    More powerful than a steaming Congress.

    Able to leap Constitutional barriers in a single bound.

  4. Nice accompanying picture but I think this is the preferred allusion.

    http://snltranscripts.jt.org/78/78ppepsi.phtml

  5. TWC,

    The point isn’t that Congress is, by itself, better of worse than the Presidency, and therefore should have more power.

    The point is that the two need to have roughly equal power in order for the system of checks and balances to work to limit the government’s power overall.

  6. as do cock rings, tros…so i hear…

  7. I had a Super President costume back in the 70s, one of those store bought ones that had a picture of the character on the chest. My brother was Scott Tracy from The Thunderbirds.
    Why Adult Swim hasn’t pulled him from oblivion like they did with Birdman is beyond me.

  8. Not to worry, wait until 2008 and if a Democrat wins, Weigel will be on here telling us how the President needs more power.

  9. Not to worry, wait until 2008 and if a Democrat wins, Weigel will be on here telling us how the President needs more power.

    Don’t inhale too much smoke from the burning straw, John.

  10. You know, I’m not sure that the branches were ever really intended to be precisely co-equal. Rather, they were meant to serve as a check on the other branches, while sometimes having superior power in certain areas. For instance, Congress has immense power over the treasury; the president has the same over the conduct of war.

    Probably the biggest flaw in our checks-and-balances system has been the growth of the administrative agencies. They are essentially legislative as well as executive bodies (and judicial, too, at times!), with only vague oversight by Congress, the courts, or even the president. On a day-to-day basis, agencies pretty much do what they want. Not good, and I mostly blame Congress for letting the agencies get out of hand.

  11. Well Thoreau, when the Republicans held Congress, I didn’t see Weigel on here argueing for a more powerful Congress. Now that the Democrats control Congress, he is all for an end to the Super President and a rise in Congressional power. What a coincidence. You can kiss Weigel’s ass all you want, but that is not going to change reality.

  12. That is why there have been so many posts on spending and Congressional corruption since January on Hit and Run. Gee I guess Congress really cleaned up its act since then. The Democrats are in control and in Reason Land all is right with the world.

  13. I’d never heard of Super President before now. Until I googled it, I thought the picture was of Captain Mahr-Vell.

  14. Joe, balance is highly over rated. But then again, I’m a slash government, not just the fat but meat-and-bone as well, kind of guy.

    Been around a while. The onward and upward crush of government infringement on John Q Public hasn’t subsided in my lifetime. Didn’t seem to matter what party held what office and in what proportion of representation.

  15. What good would a more powerful congress have done in 2005? Not that this congress may do anything useful with its powers, but last congress was completely useless.

  16. The bickering over who’s got more power is silly and pointless.

    Bush is an ass, congress is corrupt and in the end, to get anything done, a president has to build concensus.

    Bush failed to do that to begin with – choosing instead to assert authority and damn the consequences. That was fine when the conservatives were in power and willing to give him some latitude and the democrats were too chicken shit to take a relevant stand.

    But the cracks started to appear in 2004 when Repulicans like Arlen Spector started getting rankled.

    Now the Dems are in power and paybacks are a bitch. Even now, Bush could be doing more to build concensus and come up with a strategy everyone will sign on to without giving up too much.

    The problem is Bush is a moron and his biggest influence, Cheney, is pathologically averse to compromise, negotiation or sensible approaches of any kind.

    The Bush administration will go down in history as one of the most damnably incompetent administrations ever.

  17. I got the Presidential Seal
    I’m up on the Presidential podium

    So bite me.

  18. Probably the biggest flaw in our checks-and-balances system has been the growth of the administrative agencies. They are essentially legislative as well as executive bodies (and judicial, too, at times!), with only vague oversight by Congress, the courts, or even the president. On a day-to-day basis, agencies pretty much do what they want. Not good, and I mostly blame Congress for letting the agencies get out of hand.

    A-fucking-men, PL.

  19. criminals loathe accountability

    they call it “getting caught”

  20. Everyday seems a better and better day for:

    Jorj X. McKie: Saboteur Extraordinary, Bureau of Sabotage – BuSab.

  21. I say congress should funnel all of the Presidents discretionary spending cash towards the war.

    If he balks, the dems could use it to say the President is not willing to sacrifice. Bush doesn’t care about his ratings but he does care about his pet projects. It would at least pay for some of the war costs.

  22. Iran’s Smoking Guns
    Now Austrian sniper rifles show up in Iraq.

    Friday, February 16, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

    Following the weekend intelligence disclosures about Iranian-supplied weapons killing GIs in Iraq, we predicted Tuesday. that “a large part of Washington will pretend the evidence doesn’t exist, or suggest the intelligence isn’t proven, or claim that it’s all the Bush Administration’s fault for ‘bullying’ Iran.” Sure enough, President Bush faced a barrage of questions Wednesday wondering whether senior Iranian leaders were really aware of the weapons transfers, whether he was using “faulty intelligence,” and whether the disclosures were part of a strategy designed to “provoke Iran.”

    So here is the state of our public discourse: American military officials present prima facie evidence of Iranian weapons implicated in killing 170 U.S. soldiers and wounding 600 more, and Washington’s main concern is not for the GIs but in refighting the last intelligence war.

    Well, here’s an item that doesn’t seem to have been manufactured by Dick Cheney. According to a report in Britain’s Daily Telegraph, U.S. forces in Baghdad have recently discovered 100 high-powered sniper rifles made by Austrian gun-maker Steyr-Mannlicher. The .50-caliber Steyr can accurately fire an armor-piercing round at a range of 1,500 meters. The weapon is good against Humvees, helicopters and body armor.

    In 2004, Iran purchased some 800 Steyrs, allegedly for use against drug traffickers. At the time, both U.S. and British officials urged the Austrian government to bar the $15 million sale, fearing the weapons would fall into enemy hands. Former Austrian Chancellor Wolfang Sch?ssel thought otherwise, and let the deal go forward. To better grease the skids, then-Steyr-Mannlicher CEO Wolfgang F?rlinger made the case that the weapons were basically harmless and that Tehran had signed “end-user certificates” guaranteeing they would not be re-sold, according to the German newsweekly Der Spiegel.
    Today, the Austrian government pleads that the sale had been “checked very thoroughly,” and that “what happened to the weapons . . . is the responsibility of the Iranians”–which prompts the question of why the Austrians would have bothered with the end-user certificates. The Bush Administration took a less cavalier view and in 2005 banned Steyr-Mannlicher from bidding for U.S. government contracts.

    It remains to be confirmed whether the serial numbers on the Steyrs found in Iraq match those from the 2004 sale–if they do, it ought to prompt a top-to-bottom review of all Austrian military contracts. Meantime, is it too much to expect American journalists and Members of Congress to devote as much skepticism to Iran’s motives and behavior as they do to Mr. Bush’s?

  23. “when the Republicans held Congress, I didn’t see Weigel on here argueing for a more powerful Congress.”

    A more powerful Congress wasn’t an issue then because Bush had Congress under his spell when they were in the majority. I guess we could always go on a philosophical tirade about what should be, but I like to think libertarians are becoming more practical.

    Also, I think the Bush Administration’s claims of unfettered executive power have been criticized resoundingly over the last 3 years or so.

  24. the reason the media is so skeptical about the Bush administration’s claims, John, is that they’re following the president’s own advice, when he said, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…won’t get fooled again”

  25. “””So here is the state of our public discourse: American military officials present prima facie evidence of Iranian weapons implicated in killing 170 U.S. soldiers and wounding 600 more, and Washington’s main concern is not for the GIs but in refighting the last intelligence war. “””

    Once bitten, twice shy.

    Bush has already burned the bridge of trust with the American people.

    To say they are fighting the last intelligence war is false. Demands from the citizenry for him to prove it are just and complete scrutiny of anything he present is in order. That’s a proper effect after you mislead, (oopps, mis-spoke) to the country.

    The Bush admin has given us plenty of reason as to why we should question everything that comes out of his mouth. That’s his fault.

    Personally, I don’t see a problem with Iran backing their side of Iraq’s possible civil war. In war, both sides needs weapons and they get them from their allies. That’s the way war works. We didn’t invade China when they backed N. Vietnam.

    We should do what we’ve always done in the past. Hit the supply lines and stop whining. We sell weapons to other countries all the time. If it’s such a no no, we should stop. I don’t buy the BS that it’s ok for us to supply allies with arms for wars, but it’s not ok for our enemy to be supplied by their allies.

    An important issue I haven’t seen anyone talking about is whether or not Iran is doing it with some Iraqi government approval.

    The Bush admin would serve this country better if he did less talking and more walking. I don’t need for him to talk about what the other side is doing, SHOW ME THE VICTORY! His talking about the surge in advance gave the enemy the opportunity to escape. That’s giving the enemy troop movements in advance. If Nancy Pelosi did that they would be screaming treason. Of course that depends if you consider the Al-Sadr’s army an enemy or inconvenience.

  26. Didn’t we arm groups in Afghanistan to help them fight against the Russians that were there?

    *sigh*. Sometimes I wish Americans would get over this “I get to complain about everything in the world except, of course, when I do it.”

  27. Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

    On blog comment threads, with off-topic cut and paste jobs.

    Are those sniper rifles pilotless drones that can reach our shores?

  28. What joe, trickyvic, and grumpy said.

    Of course the Iranians are supplying the Iraqi Shia. Will going to war with Iran make that matter better or worse?

    (Gun-nut hat on)
    The Steyr is a nice weapon, I’m sure. They do excellent work. Google for commentary about their “Scout” rifle. But supplying someone a .50cal sniper system (one roughly equivalent to the M82/M107 line that the US has been using since the late 80’s, btw.), and being able to effectively use it in an urban environment is another thing entirely. The weapon’s not easily concealable (barrel over 1m long, see http://world.guns.ru/sniper/sn46-e.htm for a relevant example) and, movies aside, I understand that hitting someone at 1000m+ with one shot is really, really hard. More than a few shots, and your position gets fixed by counter-sniper teams, gunships, etc…

    The funny thing, to me, about this is the similar tone of the press release to the press releases in the U.S. of the great danger that would be unleashed when the Barrett .50s and their ilk were available for citizen purchase in the US. Nothing happened then, discounting the added fuel they lent to the hysterics at Waco, and not much will happen now, I predict. Besides, don’t the insurgents have .50cal machine guns anyway? If you’re trying to shoot down a helicopter, aren’t bursts of shots preferable to one?

    What’s killing our troops is bombs, IEDs, VBIEDs, that sort of thing. Figure out who’s supplying the explosives for those and interdict them if you want to lower casualties; the Steyrs are a sideshow. And if you want a better example of wonder weapons changing the war in Iraq, find out who supplied the improved seeker heads for the MANPADS that have been shooting down our helicopters in the last month.

    (gun-nut hat off)

  29. “In 2004, Iran purchased some 800 Steyrs, allegedly for use against drug traffickers. At the time, both U.S. and British officials urged the Austrian government to bar the $15 million sale, fearing the weapons would fall into enemy hands. Former Austrian Chancellor Wolfang Sch?ssel thought otherwise, and let the deal go forward.”

    This whole incident was Austria, and Steyr giving a huge “Fuck You” to the United States.

    Steyr originally asked if they could import HS50’s for sale to the US civilian market. The US tentatively gave approval, Steyr made the rifles, some of which were imported to the US, and then the BATFE told them “no deal” which left Steyr sitting on a huge pile of expensive niche-market rifles, and no one to sell them to.

    So, you can thank the BATFE who, in their infinite wisdom, would rather arm Jihadist militants than allow such guns to fall into the hands of the US competitive shooting community.

  30. “”What’s killing our troops is bombs, IEDs, VBIEDs, that sort of thing. Figure out who’s supplying the explosives for those and interdict them if you want to lower casualties;””

    Much of the explosives and artie shells used in the attacks came from the Iraq conventional weapons depots that, for some reason, we didn’t deem worthy to secure despite the fact white pickup trucks were getting in line at the gates to reap the booty. I’ve seen a couple of reports from 101 Airboure troops talking about that back in 2003. I forget the exact depot they were at. The guys were talking about chasing Iraqis from one magazine to another back to the one. That’s when I started using the “keystone cops” reference and I realized we were seriously short on troops to secure the country. Which obviously was not part of the war plan.

  31. “”Are those sniper rifles pilotless drones that can reach our shores?”””

    Depends on who you ask. One intel group says yes, another says no, and the director says it’s a slam dunk.

  32. I seem to recall FDR being repeatedly bitch-slapped as he vandalized the Constitution and attempted to pack the Supreme Court. Don’t say it can’t be done. It just takes some balls and a serious enough threat from the Executive branch.

  33. Apologies, I linked to the Steyr 15.2 weapon, which is a good deal larger than the HS50 actually implicated in the sale, as mediageek mentions. It appears to have been responsible for at least 1 us fatality so far. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/02/13/wiran13.xml
    I find difficult to believe claims in the article that 170 US fatalities are due to the use of this weapon, for the reasons I’ve listed in the previous post.

    Certainly though, the rifle could defeat from a greater range than previous Iraqi rifles, the latest generation of personal body armor. All this assumes it’s in the hands of a trained rifleman and spotter with properly selected ammunition.

    It’s hard to secure weapons sites when they’re surrounded by natives cheering you as liberators, kissing you on the cheek, and stuffing flowers in your muzzles…

  34. Of course the Iranians are supplying the Iraqi Shia.

    Actually, they are supplying both Sunni and Shia groups.

    Will going to war with Iran make that matter better or worse?

    I can think of a number of scenarios where it reduce Iranian interference in Irag. How/why would it make it worse?

  35. It’s hard to secure weapons sites when they’re surrounded by natives cheering you as liberators, kissing you on the cheek, and stuffing flowers in your muzzles…

    Its even harder to maintain a fantasy view of the Sunni and Shia terror/milita groups as liberators being cheered by fawning natives after reading about what is really going on – namely, that they are essentially organized criminal gangs that have gotten increasingly on the wrong side of the populace, who is more and more willing to rat them out to the US/Iraqi forces.

  36. “Its even harder to maintain a fantasy view of the Sunni and Shia terror/milita groups as liberators being cheered by fawning natives after reading about what is really going on”

    I think they meant that your certainty about who supplies who with weapons and the fear you have of taking Americans out of the crosshairs is akin to the certainty of the Bush Administration that we would be greeted as liberators. They are merely mocking you.

    Why are we occupying Bagdhad? We should occupy the oil fields and let the rest of the country fkuc itself.

  37. “Actually, they are supplying both Sunni and Shia groups.”

    Sure they are, RC. Did you get this from the same internet source that convinced you Saddam Hussein was training Al Qaeda members?

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