Feehery: It is time to end the imperial presidency

You know what former President Trump and President Biden have in common? 

They both show the vital importance of ending the imperial presidency. Following the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) panicked and asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley if there were procedures in place to prevent Trump from hitting the nuclear button as a potential response to the “stolen election.” That act said a lot about what the Speaker really thought about the state of the power of the president.  

When the Supreme Court recently ruled that Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency didn’t have the power to write its own environmental laws, it similarly sent a signal about the necessary limits of the executive branch. 

Under the Constitution, it is Congress, as represented by the people under Article I, that is supposed to be the most powerful of the co-equal branches. But over the last several decades, Congress has forfeited is ability to control the executive branch.  

The once-powerful House and Senate Appropriations committees almost never flex their muscles to bring executive branch officials to heel. This is especially the case when it comes to prosecuting the endless wars in which America seemingly always involves itself.  

The Constitution grants Congress the sole power to declare war, but that hasn’t happened since Pearl Harbor.  

Ending the imperial presidency isn’t just about endlessly investigating the current occupant of the Oval Office, although doing some oversight of Biden and his family’s business deals seems like a useful and potentially fruitful exercise. It is also about ending the reckless power of executive branch officials.  

In the aftermath of Watergate, efforts were made to bring some reforms to the clandestine world of the CIA and FBI. Former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had the ability to quash enemies and use the full power of the government to achieve his personal vision of American exceptionalism. That is too much power to give to one bureaucrat.  

Congress must put some guardrails on the presidency and on the executive branch.  

This should be a bipartisan project. Republicans should support it because they need to stop the Biden administration from going completely off-the-rails on COVID-19 policy, energy production, the economy and education funding. Democrats should support it because, well, you never know whether or when Trump might return to the Oval Office.  

What guardrails can there be? 

Make it more difficult for any president to put his finger on the nuclear button. Make sure that a White House can’t pursue its agenda solely with a phone and a pen, as former President Obama once did. Make sure they must go through the normal legislative procedures and pass actual laws.  

Limit the ability for public health officials to declare public health emergencies without action by lawmakers. Pass spending bills, allow for congressional earmarks and otherwise use the power of the purse as envisioned by the Founding Fathers.  

Bring war declaring powers back to Congress and stop the rogue operations that diminish our standing around the world.  

Put term limits on executive branch officials, especially those who have immense power to spend public money.  

It’s time to end the imperial presidency. It’s time to bring power back to the people and their elected representatives in Congress. 

Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).