Clinton and Executive Power

Reading the Clinton/Tomasky interview, Greg Sargent rather enthusiastically notes that in it "she vows as President to conduct a systematic review of the ways in which the Bush administration has hoarded executive power -- a review, she claims, that could actually cause her to relinquis some of those powers." David Kurtz follows through on the TPM homepage: "Hillary Clinton promises a systematic review of the Bush administration's executive power grab if elected--with an eye toward relinquishing some of those powers."

I think this isn't the best reading of what happened. Mike shrewdly asked her "what specific powers might you relinquish as president, or renegotiate with Congress - for example the power to declare a US citizen an enemy combatant?" and Clinton . . . didn't come up with anything. Instead, she vaguely replied:

Well, I think it is clear that the power grab undertaken by the Bush-Cheney administration has gone much further than any other president and has been sustained for longer. Other presidents, like Lincoln, have had to take on extraordinary powers but would later go to the Congress for either ratification or rejection. But when you take the view that they're not extraordinary powers, but they're inherent powers that reside in the office and therefore you have neither obligation to request permission nor to ask for ratification, we're in a new territory here. And I think that I'm gonna have to review everything they've done because I've been on the receiving end of that. There were a lot of actions which they took that were clearly beyond any power the Congress would have granted or that in my view that was inherent in the constitution. There were other actions they've taken which could have obtained congressional authorization but they deliberately chose not to pursue it as a matter of principle.

Basically, she's telling liberals she'll roll back executive power but she's not committing herself to doing anything in particular. Basically, as Charlie Savage wrote for our October issue, I wouldn't count on any future administration voluntarily relinquishing the powers Bush has seized. Maybe some future congress will take power back, but people don't do that kind of thing voluntarily. That's what Clinton's telling us.