Power-sharing promises

Since he started running for president, White House hopeful Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaWhy payroll tax cut opponents may want to reconsider Michelle Obama, Sanders, Kasich to be featured on first night of Democratic convention: report Graham says he appreciates Trump orders, but 'would much prefer a congressional agreement' MORE (D-Ill.) has cast himself not so much as a dealmaker or leader, but as a unique consensus builder. On Tuesday, in a speech at DePaul University in Chicago, he unveiled a proposal that touched on how congressional leadership would work with him should he become president.

Obama’s organizing principle as it is evolving in the 2008 presidential campaign is that process affects politics and policies, partisanship and polarization.

While the president and Congress are separate branches of government, when it comes to national security, Obama is talking about a new era of power sharing.

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Invoking one of his stump lines about turning the page on whatever is the topic at hand, Obama said, “I’ll turn the page on the imperial presidency that treats national security as a partisan issue — not an American issue.

“I will call for a standing, bipartisan consultative group of congressional leaders on national security. I will meet with this consultative group every month, and consult with them before taking major military action. The buck will stop with me. But these discussions have to take place on a bipartisan basis, and support for these decisions will be stronger if they draw on bipartisan counsel. We’re not going to secure this country unless we turn the page on the conventional thinking that says politics is just about beating the other side.”

As former President Clinton did, President Bush regularly consults with congressional leaders. For years, Democrats have emerged from West Wing meetings complaining nothing they advised would change Bush’s course, especially when it came to national security.

At a briefing before Obama rolled out his plan for his congressional “Consultative Group,” an Obama adviser said they envisioned a formal, institutionalized process. That would mean an agenda in advance and the willingness of the chief executive to fully explain — not just hint — about the full scope of any pending presidential directive to House and Senate leaders.

For years, Democrats have complained that if they were truly consulted on matters with partisan potential — such as judicial appointments — a fight could be avoided. Those consultative models exist. In Illinois, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R), Majority Whip Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Sunday shows - Trump coronavirus executive orders reverberate Durbin blasts Trump's 'country-club fix' on unemployment MORE (D) and Obama simply work out judicial appointments among themselves. The system worked when Republicans controlled Congress, and it works now that Democrats have the power. That’s why Illinois judicial picks, under this system of voluntary consensus among a Republican and Democrats who are politically opposite, are never stalled.

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But that is working out an agreement between only three figures. And it’s not about a war.

Rush hour

Senate Democratic leaders were handed a gift by Rush Limbaugh after he called military personnel who speak out against the Iraq war “phony soldiers.” A few weeks ago, Senate Republicans forced a vote to condemn a MoveOn.org ad critical of Gen. David Petraeus.

The Senate Democratic senators signed a letter asking Mark P. Mays, CEO of Clear Channel Communications, “to publicly repudiate” Limbaugh’s comments. Noted Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMcConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill Kamala Harris to young Black women at conference: 'I want you to be ambitious' Obama calls filibuster 'Jim Crow relic,' backs new Voting Rights Act bill MORE (D-Nev.), “Despite recent Republican comments condemning verbal attacks on our troops, when given the opportunity to join us in signing this letter, not a single one did so.’’

Sweet is the Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times. E-mail: lsweet3022@aol.com