President Obama’s progressive base has been growing impatient. Representative democracy has proved an inefficient vehicle through which to enact leftists’ desired agenda; as a result, they are increasingly demanding that their chief executive act as if the legislative branch did not exist.
Last week, the chairmen of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), Representatives Raul Grijalva (D., Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D., Minn.), wrote a letter urging Obama to sign an executive order raising the minimum wage for workers employed under federal contracts. Dozens of CPC members had been demanding such action for months. “It’s frustrating,” Ellison told the National Journal. Obama and most congressional Democrats have spoken out in favor of a nationwide minimum-wage hike, but the effort has stalled because the proposal is unlikely to pass either chamber.
Immigration activists have repeatedly called on the president to use executive action to end all deportations, just as he circumvented Congress in 2012 by ordering the Department of Homeland Security to halt deportations of immigrants who claimed protection under the DREAM Act, even though that legislation is not law and has been defeated multiple times on Capitol Hill. Last week, more than two dozen Democrats wrote a letter urging Obama to take “the sensible and moral step of stopping deportations.”
Progressives have every reason to continue this push, despite Obama’s insistence that he lacks the power to end deportations unilaterally. “We got this Constitution. We got this whole thing about separation of powers and branches,” he said in response to hecklers last month during a fundraising event in San Francisco. Of course, he made the same argument in defense of his failure to unilaterally suspend deportations of DREAM-eligible immigrants — then took such action anyway. Obama told La Raza in July 2011 that the idea was “very tempting” yet unworkable because “that’s not how our system works.” He changed his mind a year later, insisting: “This is the right thing to do.”
In November, Obama made clear that he wouldn’t let Congress stand in the way of his second-term goals, on issues ranging from climate change to education to infrastructure spending. “We have a whole drawer full of good ideas,” he said at a Democratic fundraiser in Miami. “And some of them I can do on my own, administratively.”
Democrats have also sought to weaken, if not eliminate, the Senate filibuster and celebrated last month when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), with White House backing, took the unprecedented step of rewriting Senate rules to prohibit the tactic on judicial nominations and executive-branch appointments, potentially setting the stage for the outright abolishment of the filibuster. The move will allow Obama to pack the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals with sympathetic judges who will likely be asked to weigh in on the constitutionality of the executive actions he plans to take.
Last week, Obama issued an executive order directing all federal agencies to more than double their current use of renewable energy sources to 20 percent by 2020. In November, following months of pressure from Democrats and environmental activists, the Environmental Protection Agency issued new regulations placing limits on carbon emissions from new coal-fired power plants. Activists have lobbied hard for the White House to do the same for existing power plants, among other things, ever since the push for cap-and-trade legislation was derailed in 2010.
Obama issued a series of executive orders to further his gun-control efforts after Congress failed to pass legislation. He approved a U.S.-led-from-behind military strike in Libya without authorization from Congress. And when it comes to Obamacare, the president has repeatedly taken action to avoid implementing the law as written. In almost every instance, the legality of his action has been called into question.
That trend is certain to continue, given that Democrats appear unlikely to wrest control of the House from Republicans, who have sufficiently thwarted Obama’s agenda since 2011. Last week a fawning Chris Matthews asked the president whether going into politics was “really worth it.” Politics, Obama said, is still a good a path for young people and a “noble” endeavor, as evidenced by “the satisfaction you get when you’ve passed a law or you’ve taken an executive action.”
Clearly, Obama and his progressive allies are fond of executive action. They will no doubt lose their affinity for it the moment a Republican is elected president.
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.