Some recent developments fuel speculation as to what President Obama has in mind for the next four years in several areas.
Last week’s decision by a federal appeals court invalidating the president’s so-called recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board raises questions as to whether he will put a brake on his habit of embracing novel and extravagant interpretations of his powers vis-a-vis Congress.
And what of Mr. Obama’s seeming acquiescence in outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s telling a congressional committee investigating the Benghazi attack that, in so many words, what happened was really none of its business? Does his silence indicate he hasn’t rethought his dismissive attitude toward the legislative branch?
And did the testimony of John Kerry at his confirmation hearings to succeed Ms. Clinton as secretary of state portend a return to the discredited Mideast policies of Mr. Obama’s first two years in office?
On Friday a federal appeals court ruled that the president violated the constitution last year when he invoked his power to make appointments without the “advise and consent” function of the Senate to install three nominees to the National Labor Relations Board. The president’s nominees had been facing serious Republican opposition so, on January 4, 2012, when Congress was on a holiday break but had not formally recessed, President Obama seized the moment and made his appointments.
The problem is that in the time-honored fashion followed by both Democrats and Republicans, for a few minutes every three days a handful of GOP senators appeared on the Senate floor with one rising to the rostrum, banging the gavel and declaring the Senate in session. Historically this practice had always passed muster under Senate rules. Mr. Obama, though, rejected what he called a “sham” and asserted the right to decide something that was thought to be the prerogative of the Senate.
The decision is a complicated one and the court went beyond the immediate question of the NRB appointments. Yet at the very least it puts into sharp focus the important issue of our president’s way of dealing with rules that stymie his initiatives: he trashes them.
It will be recalled that he acted similarly with respect to federal immigration laws when he disagreed with provisions that called for certain illegal aliens to be deported. He simply ordered the Immigration and Nationalization Service not to enforce the law –despite the fact that Congress had repeatedly declined to amend the legislation to his liking.
The president made no public statement about Secretary Clinton’s testimony before two congressional committees seeking to learn what the White House and State Department roles were before, after and during the Benghazi attack and why there was such confusion in official statements about the run-up to it. He also said nothing of substance in a joint “60 Minutes” interview with Ms. Clinton.
Indeed, the gist of Ms. Clinton’s testimony was that she relied on subordinates and had no personal knowledge. And she gave a non sequitur response to a question about why, initially, official statements drew attention away from any terrorist involvement:
Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.
The president, as noted, has yet to comment.
And did Mr. Kerry speak for the president during his nomination hearing? This is not just idle curiosity. The Jerusalem Post story on the Kerry hearing was titled, “Kerry Wants To Hit Ground Running on Peace Talks.” Sounds a lot like what President Obama’s priorities were four years ago.
More troubling still was his analysis that the furtherance of U.S. interests around the world is being bottled up by the lack of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians: “So much of what we need to aspire to achieve and what we need globally…all of this is tied to what can and doesn’t happen with respect to Israel/Palestine.”
Mr. Kerry inadvertently called to mind the failed Obama outreach to the Muslim world with his response to a question about the U.S. going through with its agreement to give Egypt F-16s and Abrams tanks even after Egyptian President Morsi referred to Jews and Israelis as descendants of apes and pigs and said Muslim children should be taught to hate them.
Mr. Kerry condemned the remarks but added that the issue was not “black and white” and pointed out that Egypt is strategically important to the U.S. and that Mr. Morsi has maintained Egypt’s treaty with Israel.
But can someone who spoke as Mr. Morsi did ever be trusted when it comes to Israel? And are Mr. Kerry and the president unaware that the Koran includes similar comments and worse?
To be sure, for most of his first term President Obama, contrary to the one-dimensional picture painted by some of his critics and despite a rocky personal relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu, generally defended Israel at the UN and other venues, particularly at times when other countries were more than willing to sacrifice Israel’s interests on the altar of Palestinian nationalism. Whether he will continue on that course is far from certain. Given some of the administration’s new faces, there is real cause for concern.
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