Why I’m Glad Congress Invited Netanyahu to Speak

There’s outrage among Democrats and probably smirking satisfaction among Republicans about Speaker of the House John Boehner’s invitation to have Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak to a joint session of Congress. While I like respect for both Boehner (who someday will be remembered only by congressional historians as a rather inept Speaker incapable of managing his own caucus) and Netanyahu (who’s fought valiantly against any prospect of peace with Palestine), I applaud the invitation.

It’s true that the President is the country’s chief foreign policy leader and spokesperson. It’s true that having foreign leaders address a joint session of Congress is rare, perhaps unprecedented.* It’s true that this invitation is largely a partisan act. But I set all that aside in favor of this one point: Over the past century the Presidency has grown too powerful, Congress too weak, and we need to reverse that trend if we’re going to preserve the republic.

Congress needs to act like its own institution more often, rather than simply taking its lead from the executive. That’s obviously a lot easier to do when partisanship is involved–when Republicans want to embarrass a Democratic president or vice versa. But each such act is a small precedent, a reassertion of congressional independence, a reminder that constitutionally it is Congress that is supposed to direct the President, rather than the other way around.

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*The terminology is important here. Normally the chambers of Congress officially recess for these events and convene as a “joint Meeting,” not officially in session. Quite a few foreign leaders, from Hawai’ian King Kalakaua to, most recently, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko have addressed joint Meetings of Congress. But it appears that only twice has a foreign dignitary addressed a joint Session of Congress, and both times it was an ambassador, rather than a country’s Chief Executive. So if Netanyahu speaks to an official joint Session, it may in fact be a first.

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About James Hanley

James Hanley is Associate Professor of Political Science at Adrian College and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The views expressed here do not reflect the views of either organization.
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12 Responses to Why I’m Glad Congress Invited Netanyahu to Speak

  1. Lancifer says:

    “Like” in second sentence should be “lack”?

    I share your concern for the trend towards an “imperial” presidency, and I felt that way before Obama held the office.

    I’m afraid that most people in the US consider the president our national “leader”. But not in the way the constitution intended, but more in the North Korean “Supreme Leader” sense.

    Obviously, here in the US, the president isn’t seen as some sort of demi-god, like the North Koreans are instructed to see Kim Jong Un. But I’m distressed by how many people see Obama (and Bush before him) as some sort of semi-monarch, who is “in charge” of the US government, rather than just the head of the executive branch.

    Luckily we have brave US government teachers, like you, to educate the youth of America as to the proper role of the president.

  2. Michael Cain says:

    Congress has given away so much of its authority over the last 120 years, and hamstrung itself procedurally, to the point that I’m not sure it can reclaim things even if they want to. Consider the example of carbon emissions.

    The US is slowly limiting its emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. This is being done by several of the large blue states, using the EPA as a tool and the federal judiciary to force that tool to act. Essentially all of the action has occurred since 2001. President Bush drug his feet but couldn’t stop things, and President Obama has facilitated a few things but hasn’t been the driver. The most recent SCOTUS decision on the subject was, IMO, one of the ugliest decisions I’ve ever read (IANAL — maybe lawyers don’t think it’s as bad as I do). From 2001-2007 a majority in both chambers of Congress and the President wanted to add one sentence to the Clean Air Act that would have put carbon dioxide regulations off limit, but was unable to overcome the 60-vote Senate hurdle. If Congress won’t/can’t take back the authority under those conditions, I don’t see how they can ever take it back.

  3. lancifer666 says:

    Micheal Cain,

    Obama was absolutely brazen in declaring he would use the EPA to push his anit-carbon agenda. When the SCOTUS ruled that the EPA could declare CO2 a “pollutant” it rendered the congress powerless to stop him.

  4. Michael Cain says:

    Talk is cheap when the heavy lifting has already been done by somebody else. Massachusetts v. EPA (2007) settled that CO2 was a pollutant under the Clean Air Act and mobile sources must be regulated. A McCain EPA would have negotiated similar increased CAFE numbers with the auto industry. Once mobile sources were regulated, the statute requires (with sufficient court cases already settling the matter) that stationary sources must follow. The Obama EPA has chosen a regulatory course on stationary sources that seems to me overly complicated and likely to be riddled with loopholes after the red states get through with it. The hard parts of meeting the agreement with China happen long after Obama will have left office.

    Even if you want to argue Obama’s anti-coal stance, which is easier, the heavy lifting for the CSAPR was done by the Bush EPA, the outlines for the MATS rule were established by the DC Court of Appeals in December 2008, and the new coal ash rule was finally issued this past year after the courts ordered the EPA to stop dragging their feet on it.

    Obama’s *actions* have been no more anti-carbon than the Democrats generally, and considerably less so than the blue coastal states.

  5. lancifer666 says:

    Its all a joke. China has no intention of doing anything except building more coal fired plants for the next fifteen years. The US and Europe could become completely “carbon neutral” today and CO2 emissions would continue to rise at current rates least until mid century, and not level off by hte end of the century.

    Not to mention India, Brazil, Nigeria, Ethiopia etc. Luckily climate sensitivity is likely less than 2 degrees Celsius and current levels of atmospheric CO2 are lower than the ideal level for the biosphere.

    CO2 is an irrational obsession of the self absorbed left. As the late George Carlin said, “I’m tired of f-ing Earth Day. I’m tired of these self-righteous environmentalists, these white, bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is that there aren’t enough bicycle paths. People trying to make the world safe for their Volvos. “.

  6. Michael Cain says:

    I’m not arguing one way or the other on CO2 regulation. (Admittedly, I’d like to see the US move off of coal and petroleum, but for different reasons.) I’m using it as an example to push Prof. Hanley’s point even farther — when clear majorities in Congress don’t even *try* to add the sentence “For the purposes of this Act, carbon dioxide shall not be considered to be a pollutant” to the statute, it’s a signal that they’re incapable of recapturing the power they’ve conceded.

  7. lancifer666 says:

    Sorry, knee jerk reaction on my part. I should stay on topic or write my own damn blog.

    I agree with your point about congress. The only attempts that congress has made to challenge the executive were the ham-fisted “government shutdown” games of chicken that blew up in their faces.

    It think the two parties are happy to let the president keep the bulk of the power in the hope that when “their” president is in office they will have overall control of the government.

    Another reason to lament the de facto “two party system”.

  8. ppnl says:

    I don’t really understand what role the EPA is supposed to have in regulation of Co2. They can do a lot of nanny state regulations of some industries but that would be expensive and do very little. We burn coal and get a a large fraction of our energy from that. The EPA cannot change that. Unless that changes we are just pissing in the wind.

    I agree with Lancifer666 that the two party system is responsible for presidential power. Or more precisely the failure of the two parties to define themselves as anything other than opposed to each other. That failure of moral and intellectual discipline reduces elections to the level of professional wrestling.

  9. James Hanley says:

    How would a multi-party system reign in the presidency?

  10. ppnl says:

    “How would a multi-party system reign in the presidency?”

    Parties are driven to support their president no matter what. For example Democrats are supporting Obama for doing many of the same things that they criticized Bush for. The Senate leaders constantly flip flops over filibuster power depending on who controls the senate. It isn’t about right and wrong. It isn’t even party politics really. It is simple power politics where you do anything it takes to get power. This has a devastating effect on a parties ability to maintain party discipline.

    In a multiple party system no party can expect to have a veto proof voting block down party lines. Thus a party being loyal to it’s president has less power to give and so may be less tempted. Diversity divides power.

    I always wanted libertarians to act as a buffer between the excesses of the republicans and the democrats. I am constantly frustrated that this does not happen.

  11. trumwill says:

    Fusion tickets!

  12. lancifer666 says:

    ppnl,

    Exactly what I was going to say. If no one party held a majority the parties that did not hold the presidency could form a coalition to override the president’s veto power.

    Also, an executive branch that had to worry about such a coalition might actually work toward policies that had broad support rather than paying lip service to the idea of “cooperation” while actually trying to ram rod through initiatives it knows are antithetical to it’s rival, and then using the rival parties reluctance to acquiesce as proof of their “obstructionism”.

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