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October 24, 2007

(Executive) Power Grab
Posted by Moira Whelan

I’m with Matt and Ezra on this one. Nothing in this piece makes me think that HRC would give up the power Cheney has grabbed for the Executive branch.

Here’s what really bothered me about HRC’s answer to these questions: She said she’d “review everything they’ve done” and MAY change Bush’s Constitutional violations where appropriate. That’s just not good enough for me. Why should I trust the subjective review of ANY person who walks into that office?

I think the bolder step for a candidate would be to say you’d appoint a task force of 5 or so people at some independent think tank and implement their plan to retract powers on which the Bush Administration has overstepped on January 20, 2009. Sure, we’re talking the weeds here: putting stuff in the Federal Register, signing statements, agency IGs, leak investigations, NIE writing, access of the Joint Chiefs to the Oval, but all of those things have impacted big stuff like torture, surveillance, and…um….WAR. So this is really not too much to ask.

Also, why does Clinton have to wait until she’s President to review this stuff? She wants America to elect her based on how much she already knows about the job, right? That, coupled with the time in the Senate on the receiving end of this stuff, should be enough “experience” to commit to specifics in rolling back abuses of power. There’s just no good reason for her not to be consistent and detailed based on the platform on which she’s running.

It’s also responsible foreign policy, but the Foreign Policy Community (VSPs) has hardly been demanding on any candidates when it comes to this stuff. This crowd knows well the impact of the little things the Bush Administration has done, and they know how to use the same tools to push a different agenda. In spirit, VSPs know and respect US rule of law and will play by the rules if made to do so. If the rules are stretched, however, they will take full opportunity to hide things under the “Executive Office of the President” or keep the Office of Legal Council a political tool rather than a Constitutional check, because it’s irresponsible NOT to use the tools you have to get the job done. They will sleep well at night knowing they have used these forces for good, not evil, but the certainly won’t give them back if they don’t have to. The only think to stop them is if the boss says NO.

More rules will help, not hurt VSPs in the long run. For VSPs to fix the damage done during the last 7 years, they need to know the toolbox they’re working with as soon as possible. We’ve got to start in on fixing this rendition stuff on day one, and can’t wait for the President to undertake a subjective review of whether limitations are a good idea or not. That’s senseless. Policy will be dictated in the meantime, and it will drive the conclusions of any President’s subjective review of Bush’s Constitutional violations. US rule of law will lose ground to the short term interests of the people sworn to uphold it.

So in addition to being The Right Thing To Do, it’s also smart and responsible because it jump starts a consistent and coherent foreign policy faster than if we wait for case by case review by a new POTUS played out on the front page of the Post in the form of fights among DoD, State and Justice.

I do have to give some kudos to Obama in this direction. His tone on FISA today went a long way to clarifying his expectations of those who will work for him. He’s also stated that he’ll open a declassification center to look at uncovering secrets of the Bush Administration but also the Reagan documents that Bush chose not to declassify. He’s been detailed on torture. I think this is the right tone, but again, I think it should go further. The Democratic nominee needs to ask for an independent review and to ask the Repub