Presidential Power

Kamala Harris and Donald Trump Unite to Defend the Imperial Presidency

The senator and the president she wants to unseat are determined to have their way, regardless of what the law says.


When Congress declined to allocate the money he wanted for a wall along the southern border, Donald Trump refused to take no for an answer. Kamala Harris, one of the Democrats vying to oppose Trump in next year's presidential election, likewise vows that if Congress does not change federal gun laws, she will do it by "executive action."

The president and the California senator are both unwilling to let a recalcitrant legislature stop them from keeping their campaign promises, and supporters who share their goals may be inclined to cheer them on, even while faulting the other side for disregarding the rule of law and the constitutional separation of powers. That double standard is useful in the short run but disastrous in the long run, enhancing the imperial presidency in ways that members of both major parties will come to regret.

Last Friday, Haywood Gilliam, a federal judge in California, issued two permanent injunctions against Trump's attempt to fund his "great, great wall" with money that Congress never approved for that purpose. As Gilliam explained in a preliminary ruling last May, "Congress's 'absolute' control over federal expenditures—even when that control may frustrate the desires of the Executive Branch regarding initiatives it views as important—is not a bug in our constitutional system. It is a feature of that system, and an essential one."

Trump tried to get around that constraint by invoking 10 USC 2808, which allows the secretary of defense to "undertake military construction projects…not otherwise authorized by law" when the president declares a national emergency "that requires use of the armed forces." But as Gilliam pointed out, the law's definition of "military construction"—which involves a "military installation" such as "a base, camp, post, station, yard, [or] center," cannot reasonably be read to encompass Trump's wall.

Trump is also relying on Section 8005 of the most recent Defense Department appropriations act, which allows the department to use "working capital funds" for "higher priority items" that serve "unforeseen military requirements," provided the project is not one for which funding "has been denied by the Congress." Yet it was legislators' refusal to approve the funding Trump wanted for his wall that prompted this end run, and a project he has been touting since before he was elected and for which he has sought financing since February 2018 can hardly be described as an "unforeseen military requirement."

Harris shows a similar disregard for the law. "The problem," she explained during last Thursday's Democratic presidential debate, "is Congress has not had the courage to act." If she is elected and Congress declines to approve "universal background checks" for gun buyers, Harris said, she will unilaterally impose "the most comprehensive background check policy we've had."

Harris' plan involves redefining anyone who sells more than four guns in a single year as a federally licensed dealer, meaning he would have to conduct background checks. That plan is clearly at odds with the statutory definition of "dealer," which excludes "a person who makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms."

Harris also claims she can eliminate the so-called boyfriend loophole by presidential fiat. Under current law, people convicted of misdemeanors involving "domestic violence" are barred from possessing firearms, but crimes against dating partners count as "domestic violence" only if the perpetrator has lived with the victim or produced a child with him or her. Whether or not that makes sense, Congress has defined "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence," and only Congress can change the definition.

Regardless of how you feel about Trump's border wall or Harris' gun control agenda, the way they achieve their goals matters. Before Americans assent to the use of extraconstitutional presidential powers by politicians they like, they should imagine how those powers might be used by politicians they despise.

© Copyright 2019 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. They are no different than any of the others that have preceded them.
    Vote everyone out , every time.

    1. There is a difference between Kamala Rouge and Donald Trump but I would be fine with single terms for all politicians.

      1. She’s got a bigger dick?

        1. She’s got a dick but Trump’s is YUGE.

          Lefties like dem some chicks with underwear with dick holes in ’em.

          1. So, they like crotchless panties?

      2. How about a single lifetime term limit for any office? Serve as a small town mayor, then ineligible for any other office ever.

        1. Sorry. Dual sovereignty as per the SCOTUS means that state politics is different than federal politics. In fact, you could serve in different states and that would avoid “Double Jeopardy”.

  2. Here’s the difference, Trump has been stymied by the courts every time he tries to do anything, including that which he is authorized to do. Latest case being the citizen question on the census. Harris will, God forbid she ever gets there, be able to issue any command and anyone complaining will be labeled a racist AND a sexist.

    1. I live in a heavily Blue area, and I’ve heard some people saying the best possible ticket would be Harris/Buttigieg. Nobody comes out and says it, but I suspect a lot of that comes from the identity politics angle: disagree with them on anything, and you’re racist AND sexist AND homophobic.

      1. The smartest thing any Democrat running could do is get as much publicity as they can and then drop out before the Primaries. This way they get the experience, establish staff around the USA for the next election cycle, and get the Propagandists in the media to de-stink their bullshit.

        Nothing will kill a 2024 Presidential candidate run like a massive EC loss to Trump in 2020.

      2. That’s called a ‘liberal trifecta’!

  3. The difference is Trump is backed by the constitution, and Harris is trying to subvert it.

    1. There’s also the pragmatism that’s built into the Constitution. Seizing guns is going to lead to lots of unnecessary bloodshed while either limiting the number of people coming into the country or limiting the number of people covered by the safety net is going to have to happen despite, through, or because of hardship and bloodshed.

  4. its all about 2020 President election

    1. Even the Lefties know that Trump will be reelected by the majority of states via a higher Electoral College margin than 2016.

      This is about setting up publicity for 2024 candidates and refilling the Democrat Party coffers.

      1. This prediction will age about as well as your “Red Wave” talk throughout 2018.


      2. blue wave was so great it should not even be capitalized.

  5. When Congress declined to allocate the money he wanted for a wall along the southern border, Donald Trump refused to take no for an answer. Kamala Harris, one of the Democrats vying to oppose Trump in next year’s presidential election, likewise vows that if Congress does not change federal gun laws, she will do it by “executive action.”

    False equivalence. The Executive has lots of discretion over spending approved by Congress, but the right to bear arms is explicitly spelled out on that old dusty parchment.

    1. But what about both sides???!!!
      Trump definitely has an authoritarian impulse but for whatever reason his actions have mostly been reigned in. I even agree and criticized him for the emergency declaration because of the bad precedent it sets (regardless of whether he has the authority.) Unfortunately, the comparison between him and his predecessor and the Democrats seeking office makes him look good. Obama ignored courts ruling his actions unconstitutional. The courts attack Trump’s Constitutional actions on flimsy political grounds and he mostly abides by those restrictions. It takes a whole lot of ignorance to believe any of the Democratic candidates have any respect for Constitutional restrictions or that they don’t plan to take unilateral action on everything.

  6. […] Kamala Harris and Donald Trump Unite to Defend the Imperial Presidency – Reason Trump Kamala Harris and Donald Trump Unite to Defend the Imperial Presidency  Reason […]

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  8. As a Koch / Reason left-libertarian, I welcome an imperial Presidency as long as the President in question has the correct policies on immigration, reproductive rights, and gun safety.


    1. And that’s the common idiocy among far too many Americans. They only dislike big, intrusive, powerful government when they disagree with specific policies. If the feds only championed their favorite opinions, it should be encouraged to screw the other side.

    2. You forgot your customary, Seig Heil at the end of your comment, OBL.
      You’re starting to lose it.

  9. You mean we should go back to those unenlightened days when a president needed more than a phone and a pen?

    You probably want us to ride horses and wear three-cornered hats as well.

    1. I’d actually be okay with that, I think.

      1. I’m from the backwoods, may I wear a coonskin cap or a flat brimmed felt hat? Tricorn hats are so down country gentrified.

        1. I’m from the backwoods, may I wear a coonskin cap or a flat brimmed felt hat?

          Straw would also be acceptable in a pinch.

  10. Using money authorized by Congress for defense on a wall on the border is just like violating the Bill of Rights.

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  12. Yawn… More mendacious horseshit from Reason. Trump has worked within existing law; you may not like the law, but it is what it is unless it’s changed by the legislature.

  13. I hope Kamala Harris runs for president.
    Willie Brown says she’s great at what she does.
    Don’t forget those knee pads, Kamala!

  14. Kumdumpster Harris’s authoritarian impulses make Trump look like a guidance counsellor by comparison.

  15. What a stinky piece of garbage article this is. Pure TDS.

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