In November 2010, I was sent to Congress on a wave of discontent with President Obama and his hyperpartisan, hard-left agenda. With this clear repudiation behind him and a Republican House majority suddenly standing before him, Mr. Obama was handed an opportunity to adjust course and reclaim the confidence of the American electorate. Instead, he took a different approach: If you can’t lead ‘em, ignore ‘em. President Obama set himself against the expressed will of the American people and resolved to end-run and overrun their elected representatives. So began the imperial presidency.
As a conservative freshman in Congress, one expects policy disagreements with a liberal president. I also expected a productive, if sometimes pitched, exchange of ideas between the legislative and executive branches. What happened instead was an all-out executive power play - a rejection of substantive, democratic dialogue with his colleagues on the other side of the aisle in a co-equal branch of government.
Of course, the president attempted to avoid responsibility for this destructive choice in the familiar way: He projected it at his opposition. But this only added deception to the destruction.
Consider when Mr. Obama announced that the federal government would cease enforcing important policies against illegal immigration. S.B. 1070, Arizona’s immigration law, sought nothing more than to compensate for the Obama administration’s long-standing failure to comply with pre-existing federal immigration law. He sued Arizona to stop the state from enforcing federal immigration policy and lost an important part of that suit by unanimous judgment of the Supreme Court. Then, the day of the ruling, Mr. Obama announced that the federal government would cease to cooperate in the 287(g) Task Force, a pragmatic state-federal partnership designed to assist local law enforcement in dealing with apprehended illegal immigrants. Not only does this approach encourage further illegal immigration, it is an attack on our system of laws and the separation of powers that lies at the heart of our Constitution. The moment national security is ignored in pursuit of partisan executive ambition, you know America has entered the era of the imperial president.
An earlier sign of Mr. Obama’s arrogance came in February 2011. He announced then that the Department of Justice would not defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court, even though it’s a federal law passed with bipartisan support and signed by President Clinton. I wholeheartedly support traditional marriage as between one man and one woman, but the issue here is not confined to the sanctity of marriage. Once again, it is Mr. Obama’s willingness to flout established laws for political gain and convenience.
Mr. Obama also has placed his imperious nature on display overseas, in his role as commander in chief. Last year, after weeks of dithering, he decided to engage in what his advisers creatively termed “kinetic military action” in Libya. American engagement in Libya was a difficult decision that divided the American people and Congress alike, but Mr. Obama didn’t seem to care. Members of both parties were appalled when he authorized military action without congressional approval. In the current context of international upheaval and armed conflict in Syria, the potential implications of Mr. Obama’s actions were quite serious.
Whether he is commanding the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions or implementing net neutrality via the Federal Communications Commission, Mr. Obama continues to circumvent Congress and treat the Constitution’s balance of powers with wanton disregard. He also has demonstrated an astounding contempt for the constitutionally mandated process of Senate review of presidential appointees.
In an effort to sneak through an unpopular, partisan “czar” for his newly created regulatory behemoth, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mr. Obama made a recess appointment, or so he claimed. Unfortunately, his claim was blatantly false, as the Senate was in the midst of a pro forma session. As a senator, Mr. Obama habitually decried recess appointments. Yet as president, with his eyes fixed on the expansion and politically expedient exercise of his own power, he has not only hypocritically embraced recess appointments but unconstitutionally redefined the term.
Mr. Obama’s imperial temperament was revealed again during his shameless exchange with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Thinking they were off-microphone at a photo opportunity, he plaintively asked Mr. Medvedev to give him “space” regarding missile defense until after the November election. In that moment, Mr. Obama undermined before Russia and the entire world the unity of the American people and their government. Considering the strategic significance of missile defense, this was one of the worst displays of presidential duplicity in history, once again revealing Mr. Obama’s proclivity for placing himself and his political objectives ahead of the people, their Constitution and their security. It ought to give every American pause about exactly what this president might attempt to do were he given a second term.
In the meanwhile, voters are still waiting for our intrepid press corps to demand of the president exactly what he intends to give the Russians on missile defense that must be concealed from the American people until after he has been re-elected.
It’s time we put partisan differences aside and unite in defense of limited government and executive restraint. We must put an end to the era of the imperial presidency. In order to save America, we must save the nation from President Obama.
Rep. Benjamin Quayle is an Arizona Republican.