Would a Hillary Clinton presidency rerun the corruption, secrecy, and paranoia of the 1990s? Sure, but that’s not the half of it. The larger problem would be a marriage of Hillary’s “Go to hell” attitude with Obama’s dangerous expansion of executive authority. What happens when someone who thinks “the rules don’t apply to me” is entrusted with custodianship of our ultimate rulebook, the Constitution?
Symbolically, Obama began his questionable expansion of executive authority in 2012 by gutting the work requirements of the 1996 welfare reform bill, a joint product of the Clinton administration and newly dominant congressional Republicans. Voters may think a Hillary presidency would mean a return to those days of relative cooperation. In fact, Obama’s abusive expansion of executive authority has handed Hillary a path around the sort of compromises she never wanted Bill to make to begin with.
Hillary quickly endorsed Obama’s executive order on immigration, which of course he’d repeatedly said would overstep his presidential powers. The public may have been thinking, “Hillary is taking a liberal line on immigration.” But Hillary was probably thinking, “My powers! He’s expanding my powers.”
Just before the ill-fated press conference on her emails, Hillary took a hard pro-Obama line on the latest skirmish over presidential authority. Obama is close to entering into a ten-year agreement with Iran (extending well beyond his term in office), without presenting that agreement for Senate ratification as a treaty. Once again in defending Obama on a policy issue, Hillary is effectively embracing a precedent for her own expanded powers as president.
We’ve already seen Obama unilaterally suspending and revising the details of Obamacare, an instance of which is now the most prominent case before the Supreme Court. Does anyone believe that Hillary would be less aggressive than Obama in arrogating to herself the right to re-write?
We’ve even had experience with Hillary’s constitutional disregard. The Clinton’s may have stayed within the letter of the law, but the entire Clinton co-presidency was an offense against the Framers’ ban on a plural executive. And we’ll have another unelected co-presidency when Bill becomes “First Laddie.”
Hillary and Bill may work as a duo, but they’re hardly identical. Hillary, far more than Bill, was determined to withhold the Whitewater records from the press. Hillary more than Bill was the driving force behind the Clinton White House’s paranoia and secrecy (with the great exception of the Lewinsky affair). Hillary, more than Bill, called for hardball on the treatment of “enemies.” And when it comes to hardball on the Constitution, Hillary will follow Obama more than Bill.
Executive authority is breaking out of legitimate bounds on a number of fronts. The bullet-ban end-run around a legislative approach to gun control was withdrawn, but strictly for political reasons. Here Obama has provided Hillary with a roadmap for gutting the legislature’s legitimate authority on a wide range of domestic issues.
Smart Republicans will make the constitutional dangers posed by Hillary’s lawless attitude into a campaign issue. She’ll deny it, but her denials are no longer credible. And how many times did Obama tell us that he’d never issue his executive order on immigration? The only way to rebuild a constitutional approach to presidential powers is for a Republican to run on the issue, win, and govern within legitimate limits during his term. The Constitution is teetering on the brink. What happens if the queen of “the rules don’t apply to me” takes charge?
— Stanley Kurtz is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.