Against Congressional self-help

A reader says my suggestion about dragging Karl Rove in wearing handcuffs would backfire.

A reader writes, in response to my claim that the White House has finally overplayed its hand, that my suggestion about sending the House Sergeant-at-Arms to haul Karl Rove before the Judiciary Committee in handcuffs would constitute an overplaying of the Democrats’ hand:

An intriguing post, to say the least. I am concerned, however, that if the Dem Congress took such aggressive action &#8212 Constitutionally justified though it would be &#8212 the action would backfire politically in the same way that the Repub Congress’ impeachment of President Clinton did. (As you no doubt recall, the public at that time was unhappy with Clinton, but the impeachment allowed him (thankfully) to rally public support due to Congress’s egregious overreach.)

Although I believe the Constitutional merits of your suggestions far exceed those of the Repub impeachment, I have no doubt that the right wing noise machine would play such actions as a renegade Dem Congress run amok. And, given the level of public sophistication concerning why Congress must enforce its rights in order to preserve a balance of power vis-à-vis the executive, the noise machine would have a good chance for success at turning public opinion. And if public opinion changes in favor of the President, then we not only imperil the continuance of Dem control of Congress (to say nothing of Presidential prospects) in 2008, but any hope of success in getting us out of Iraq.

Incensed as I am with the administration’s thumbing its nose at the Constitution, I fear that even if the actions you propose were successful (that is, they obtain the documents or testimony sought), we may win the battle but lose the proverbial war. It may be more advantageous simply to keep the presidential nose-thumbing as an issue in the media, and to seek intervention of the courts (at least theoretically a neutral third branch). And as long as Congress doesn’t cave and concede the assertions of Presidential privilege, I don’t believe those assertions can successfully serve as precedent to permanently upset the balance of powers.

Clearly a serious argument. I’m not fully convinced, but your mileage may vary.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: