“We conclude that the Recess Appointments Clause does not give the President the constitutional authority to make the appointments here at issue.” – Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority opinion in the unanimous finding of N.L.R.B. v Canning, issued 26 June, 2014
“The Constitution makes it clear that a president’s job is to faithfully execute the laws. In my view, the president has not faithfully executed the laws.” – Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-Ohio) announcing to the press his intention to get Congress to sue President Obama for not following his oath of office
There’s blood in the water fountain on the North Lawn of the White House. Phrases like “constitutional authority” and “not faithfully executed” cast a shadow of doubt in the minds of the undiscerning, over the integrity of the president they elected to office, twice. The question is whether the Supreme Court and House Speaker John Boehner are inflicting a thousand tiny cuts or whether it’s a self inflicted mortal wound cut by the knife of good intention.
How the administration responds to these slings and arrows of misfortune is important, not only for President Obama, but also for the Democrats who hope to succeed him. With his popularity numbers hovering around 40 percent, and a public perception of disregard for the rules of power, the meme that asks “Do you want another four years of the kind of governing we saw under Obama,” is going to make any Democratic candidate’s push to the 2016 election difficult, especially those who have no buffer from the actions of the administration, like Vice President Joe Biden and the favored, former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
The irony is obvious, since Obama argued, in 2008, that electing a Republican was tantamount to endorsing another four years of the horrid policies of Bush and Cheney. “Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment,” he said of his opponent on the night he accepted his party’s nomination in Denver, “but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush was right more than 90 percent of the time?” And he continued to refer to the failed foreign and domestic policies of George W. Bush as “Bush-McCain” policies.
It really won’t matter if Boehner’s lawsuit will likely not be resolved until after Obama is out of office. It really won’t matter that Biden and Clinton aren’t Obama, and neither are Martin O’Malley, Brian Schweitzer or Andrew Cuomo. The Republicans will hold up a thin allegation of abuse of power and call it a telephone book, and hang it on the neck of whoever the Democrats nominate.
How the president publicly responds to not only Boehner’s partisan gimmickry, but more importantly, to the Supreme Court setbacks (which include wounds from two of his own appointees), is critical. He has a little more room to be defensive with Boehner – “What I’ve told Speaker Boehner directly is, ‘If you’re really concerned about me taking too many executive actions, why don’t you try getting something done through Congress?'” he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Friday – but cannot be dismissive, or even appear to be dismissive, of either one. If he doesn’t find some way to appear contrite but not chastened, his legacy will not just be the end of two wars and a health care bill. It will be facing the challenge of an intransigent Congress and finding workarounds so distasteful that it sours the public on the leadership style of the entire party.