Kucinich: A co-equal branch

Kucinich: A co-equal branch
© Greg Nash

As President Trump is being roundly attacked from within and without, it would be advisable to strive to build relationships within Congress to establish a basis for cooperation and toward a common legislative agenda, accomplished by making deals of which the president is fond.

He can begin by ordering the attorney general to withdraw an opinion issued recently by the Office of Legal Counsel that provided a sophomoric, politically ignorant, constitutionally suspect justification for departments and agencies to ignore congressional inquiries.

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An administration cannot tell Congress to mind its own business, because, since Congress controls appropriations, everything is its business. All it takes is a single amendment to an appropriations bill to establish that basic fact of the federal government.

A plain reading of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution is necessary for an understanding of the breadth of congressional power, which can be summoned from somnambulance to shake even the most obtuse administration acolyte.

Occasionally, the executive branch needs to be reminded that Congress is a co-equal branch of government and possesses, among its enumerated powers, the ability to remove a president from office.

It is beyond counterproductive that at a moment of political peril, minions from legal counsel have found a way to antagonize even the president’s allies. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRepublicans jockey for position on immigration House clears bill to combat crimes against elderly Grassley: DACA deal wouldn't need border wall funding MORE (R-Iowa) objected in writing to the effort to wall off the executive branch from routine questions.

I served in Congress for 16 years, through three presidents, and I cannot recall a department or an agency, as a matter of policy, refusing to respond to a written request. I may not have received the response I wanted, but a timely response indicated an acknowledgment of Congress’s constitutional co-equality and the legitimacy of congressional oversight, which is not simply a collective action through the workings of committees or chairs, but an individual congressional prerogative, especially when germane to legislative matters.

The president may not understand that members of Congress become rightly offended when told that a department or an agency does not have to answer their questions and should instead consult with their committee chairs.

Gathering information is central to the legislative process and to oversight, two primary purposes of Congress. It is essential to effecting the workings of the speech and debate and the necessary and proper clauses of the Constitution, cornerstones of congressional purpose.

This is not a matter of “inside baseball”; this relates directly to Congress’s representative responsibilities on behalf of the American people.

The White House cannot claim executive privilege at every turn, lest it dilute the seriousness of matters that properly are privileged and asserted under the separation of powers doctrine. Likewise, it has no authority to undermine the congressional privilege of inquiry.

As a consequence of the Office of Legal Counsel opinion, the administration could be faced with dozens of subpoenas or resolutions of inquiry, when all most members seek is a proper written response to their questions.

That the president had no governmental experience prior to taking office places a special burden on those inside his administration to guide him as to the appropriate manners of dealing with Congress and to advise him to take a path consistent with the Constitution.

It is notable that the same Office of Legal Counsel provided the president with the widely pilloried legal opinion about instituting a travel ban against persons from six predominantly Muslim nations.

The presidency of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE has been weakened by opponents in the media, by leaks from the CIA, the FBI, the State Department and the Pentagon, as well as by his own intemperance.

It is also being undermined by political neophytes who have absolutely no understanding of politics or protocols when it comes to dealing with Congress.

Kucinich served eight terms in the U.S. House from 1997 to 2013.  He is also a contributor to Fox News.  


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.