Czar Wars


Here’s a fight I’ll be keeping an eye on once Congress returns from this week’s recess. After Republican leaders hailed the elimination of four of the Obama Administration’s controversial “czars” in the budget approved last week, President Obama on Friday issued a signing statement arguing that he does, in fact, retain the ability to appoint special advisers:

The President has well-established authority to supervise and oversee the executive branch, and to obtain advice in furtherance of this supervisory authority. The President also has the prerogative to obtain advice that will assist him in carrying out his constitutional responsibilities, and do so not only from executive branch officials and employees outside the White House, but also from advisers within it.

Legislative efforts that significantly impede the President’s ability to exercise his supervisory and coordinating authorities or to obtain the views of the appropriate senior advisers violate the separation of powers by undermining the President’s ability to exercise his constitutional responsibilities and take care that the laws be faithfully executed. Therefore, the executive branch will construe section 2262 not to abrogate these Presidential prerogatives.

The “czars” Republicans targeted included:

  • the director of the White House Office of Health Reform (health care czar)
  • the senior adviser on the auto industry (car czar)
  • senior counselor for manufacturing policy (manufacturing czar)
  • White House director of urban affairs (urban czar)

The senior advisor in the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change, or “climate czar,” was also a target of Republican ire. But that was already a moot point, since Obama did away with the office following Carol Browner’s resignation earlier this year.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) is already accusing Obama of acting like a “dictator” in defying the czar decree. Whether Republicans will make hay of Obama’s override will be worth watching.

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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.