Article Two and unlimited power
“I have an Article II where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.” President Donald Trump, July 23, 2019
The Constitution of the United States was written in 1787 to replace the failed Articles of Confederation. The Constitution contains seven articles. The first three deal with the powers and responsibilities of the three branches of government. Article I describes Congress, Article II the executive branch, and Article III the judiciary.
Article I has 10 sections, because the authors of the Constitution intended for Congress to have the most governmental powers. Section Eight is quite long and lists the duties and powers of Congress. Article II has four sections. Section Two describes the powers of the president, far fewer than Congress. Article III has three sections and is quite short.
Article II, Section Four, describes the process of impeachment, to be invoked when an elected official abuses the powers of his or her office. We have just undergone an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives, with two Articles of Impeachment drawn up against President Trump, followed by a short trial in the Senate.
On Feb. 5, the Republican Senate voted to acquit Trump of the impeachment charges. He was not exonerated; he was acquitted in a rigged trial where a majority of the jurors admitted before the trial even started that they would acquit him. These jurors, the Republican senators, refused to allow any evidence or any witnesses. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he would not be an “impartial” juror.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said on Jan. 12, “If McConnell succeeds in making this trial a trial without witnesses, it will be the first impeachment trial in history – where the subject of the trial didn’t resign mid-trial – where they didn’t have witnesses. That’s not a fair trial. That’s a sham. That’s a cover-up.” Quite a legacy for the Republican Party. A phony verdict after a sham trial.
With this acquittal, Republicans have essentially told Trump he has unlimited power to do whatever he wants and the Senate won’t stop him. They seem happy to return to the days of an unrestrained king, something we fought a revolution to escape.
This is reminiscent of what Richard Nixon said on May 19, 1977: “Oh, when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.” Republicans seem to believe that when the president is a Republican, the Constitution and other laws don’t apply. They only count when a Democrat is president.
One of Congress’s most important duties is oversight of the Executive branch, making sure the president enforces and follows the laws and Constitution. The president takes an oath to ensure this: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” (Constitution, Article II)
The Constitution is clear on the limitations of the president’s authority, but Trump apparently disagrees with these limits. On May 30, 2019, he told reporters: “Some day you ought to read a thing called Article II. Read Article II, which gives the president powers that you wouldn’t believe.” Trump has been abusing the power of the presidency for some time, and Republicans refuse to hold him accountable.
Trump is now firing people who did their duty by testifying when subpoenaed, incurring Trump’s wrath. Legally he can do this, but his actions are immoral, unethical, and based on revenge. Every federal employee’s loyalty is to the Constitution, not to the president, and Trump is punishing these people for obeying the law. He is acting like a tin-pot dictator. As one commentator said, “Trump now has a blank check. We all know that he will try to cash it.” (Washington Post, Feb. 3, 2020)
So think about that. Does a president have unlimited power to do whatever he wants, as Trump claims? If you answer “No,” good for you. You realize a president must have some restraints on his or her actions and must abide by the law. You recognize that what Trump said is wrong.
If you answer “Yes,” remember that when we have a Democratic president. You are saying a Democratic president should be able to do whatever he or she wants and Congress shouldn’t interfere in any way. Your answer reveals what you believe about our Constitution and our government. Our future as a country is at stake.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at email@example.com.