How should the new Republican-led Congress deal with the lame duck president?
Respectfully, but like the near non-entity he has become with regard to legislative initiatives and judicial appointees.
Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis have a typically well-reported piece in Friday's New York Times on how the president hopes to become relevant again, but this is simply desperation rising in the collective throat of the White House. The president is already a political pariah outside his small and increasingly narrow base, and Hillary won't be photographed with him by this time next year, maybe by March. (To get a good assessment of where Hillary stands, read or listen to the section on Hillary from my long chat with Chuck Todd on Thursday concerning his must-read new book on the inter tick-tock of Obama, The Stranger.)
The president is, to use an analogy all too understandable these days, concussed on and on the sidelines. It is doubtful he will re-enter the game except on special teams when he gets to veto or sign a bill.
And that's fine. His executive orders, his speeches --meh. An illegal alien in the country relying on a piece of paper issued unilaterally by the president is going to end up deeper in the shadows unless the Congress does indeed pass sound immigration reform and even then that law might not honor, and probably won't, President Obama's certificates of distinction or achievement or whatever he cares to call them. Certainly employers are not going to be in a hurry to hire the 26 month temporary residents when a legal resident presents himself, and no doubt the president's cracker-jack legal team hasn't run through how the 50 states' labor laws and wage-and-hour laws (or their unions) are going to interact with and react to the not-quite-legal people suddenly appearing in their midst.
No, the president's Hail Mary on immigration has "unintended consequences" written all over it, including a probable incentivizing of folks in the country illegally to get busy and have a baby regardless of circumstance. Not well thought through, but as The Stranger shows again and again, not much this president has done has been well thought through. The lame duck years of Obama are going to expose an even shallower president than we knew we had. Nice guy, sure, and a good dad and husband, but a lightweight, petulant and insecure, aware of every day's passing and his long walk into a long retirement in which he will be the butt of jokes, many of them from his staff.
So what's a GOP Congress to do? Certainly not worry about the incredibly shrinking fellow down the street. Mostly, define itself for an election two years down the road, and secondarily, whatever it can do to accomplish incremental improvements in domestic legislation while using every opportunity to rebuild the Pentagon and the Armed Services. That means money, lots of it, and fast.
It ought to block all or almost all judicial appointees of the lame duck, especially to the Circuit Courts and of course any Supreme Court nominee, and use the nomination hearings of any other executive branch appointee to complete inquiries into the IRS, VA, Fast & Furious and Behngazi scandals, but always professionally, with an eye not on today or next month but 2016. If this most immature of presidents offers up a mature approach to judicial nominees --"Mitch, you get one and I get one, provided neither of ours are crazy"-- that could work, but mostly Chairman Grassley should just put a "Gone to Lunch, Back in 2017 sign" on the doors of the hearing room of the Judiciary Committee.
It will be up to --wait for it-- John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, Tom Cotton, Joni Ernst and Dan Sullivan to press the president on matters of engaging our rivals and enemies abroad. The old lion got some reinforcements. Good. All they can do is Sunday shows but they can do them well and often.
Paul Ryan and Orrin Hatch, who will be running House Ways and Means and Senate Finance, respectively, and other key players like Representative Tom Price of Georgia (heading Budget) and Thad Cochran, running Senate Appropriations, will be putting the pieces together of a sound fiscal policy, but it will be Leader McConnell and Speaker Boehner who need to figure out how to get the reconciliation process to work to maximum advantage to at least repeal the destructive Medical Devices Tax and perhaps thee "risk corridors." The Supreme Court is going to kill off the unconstitutional additions to the law that kept the federal exchange viable, so the Obamacare fiasco will continue to fall apart like a Looney Tunes car, but the Congress should help the process along wherever possible.
No "grand bargains" please, not with this one-winged wonder of an under-performer. He needs to be encouraged not to lose even more ground abroad and here is the first thing the new Congress can do: Pass new sanctions on Iran, and collect the votes to override his veto. Enlist Hillary to help you or brand her as not in this fight. You can roll the president on this awful "deal" he and Secretary Kerry are cooking up that endangers Israel and the world, and rolled they should be --quickly and thoroughly flattened.
The GOP Congress should pass immigration reform, and quickly, with a Title One that is simply the mandate to, notwithstanding any other law, construct a long, strong,. double-sided fence that stretches half the 2,000 mile border and which has a road between the two tall fences suitable for Border Patrol vehicles to drive. Completion of such a fence should be a trigger for Titles II and III and IV and whatever. The fence is the visible expression of the invisible resolve to control the border for national security purposes and its construction or its absence will be the singular definition of success for the GOP on immigration-related issues. D.C. elites don't quite get just how smart the voters are --Dr. Gruber was just one among many-- but voters know that if there is no long, strong, high and double sided fence there is no border security, period. (Speaking of Dr. Gruber, he's been my guest for two long interviews, and I have posted the links to those interesting transcripts here.)
The tax reform debate is a good one to get going in January. The GOP should not repeal or limit the homeowners' deduction, the charitable contribution, or the deductibility of state income taxes, but everything else should be on the table, and a law should head from Paul Ryan's committee to the Senate as a platform on which to run in 2016 (or from which to run if Representative Ryan trims any of the big three) and it shouldn't be afraid to include new revenues like a severance tax on America's vast oil and gas reserves which certainly do belong to the owners of the rights, but which the national defense protects and allows for the transport and use of, and on which a federal severance tax is certainly appropriate to help fund those carrying costs.
Finally, when those appropriations bills roll off the assembly line courtesy of Chairman Rogers in the House and Chairman Cochran in the Senate, they should be festooned with "riders" that cut back the weeds of the six years of amateur leftism that has dominated President Obama's tenure. The EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, IRS etc., all should be trussed up with language such as "No funds provided pursuant to this act shall be expended to list any new species as threatened or endangered or designate any land as critical habitat" and "No finds shall be spent rewriting the definition of navigable waters." As a young General Counsel in the late Reagan years, my head spun trying to administer an agency legally weighed down by directives attached to appropriations riders from the Democratic Congress that indeed were law. The GOP must do the same to my counterpart third stringers left holding the bags as the more senior folks from Team Obama flee for K Street or home.
So do not let your hearts be troubled by the lame duck's thrashing about these days and weeks before January. He can get a lot of people killed abroad, but he cannot change the laws at home, no matter what he thinks or does. The times they are a changin'. Thank God.