That misleading question about enforcing labor laws in Texas

I tried to watch some of the Attorney General confirmation hearings with an open mind but my mind could only stay open for about ten seconds of Ted Cruz. His petulant apology on behalf of Democratic Senator Whitehouse turned my stomach. Whitehouse had appropriately criticized so called “witnesses” who had nothing to say about Loretta Lynch and were only there to spew hate about President Obama and Eric Holder. You may have heard Whitehouse’s remark by now, “I regret that this hearing and this solemn occasion has been co-opted to that extent, and turned into what appears to be a soundbite factory for Fox News and conspiracy theorists everywhere.”, but it’s worth hearing the preceding four minutes or so where Whitehouse established that the witnesses were not there to contribute anything useful to the hearings.

(The above picture is a link to the MediaMatters page that includes the video).

Ted Cruz went further, and devoted precious time to shedding crocodile tears with True the Vote head Catherine Engelbrecht, asking her to tell us “How did it make you feel to be targeted by the government for persecution?”, and rehashing debunked accusations that President Obama was to blame for the investigations of TTV by the IRS and other federal agencies.

The time Cruz didn’t spend accusing Obama of persecuting non-partisan charitable organizations and their angelic founders was spent discussing his misleading hypothetical questions about whether or not the president can decide not to enforce labor laws in Texas, and if the president has the authority to decide not to collect taxes above 25%. The bizarre scenarios were supposed to be analogous to the president deciding not to prosecute certain undocumented immigrants. Cruz was unhappy that Lynch didn’t give him the kind of direct answer he was looking for the day before. Of course she didn’t.

The questions were not asked in search of knowledge. They were asked in the search of soundbites as Senator Whitehouse stated. The answers to those questions are clearly, “No”, but if Lynch were to respond as Cruz would have liked, her words would have been twisted into a condemnation of the president’s actions. It’s typical Republican style propaganda. Republicans are all about the “if this, then why not that?” types of questions. “If we keep guns out of the hands of criminals, than why not grab everyone’s guns?”, “If we give people healthcare, than what’s to stop the government from assigning death panels to kill our grandmothers?”, “If we tax the rich, then what’s to stop us from throwing Jews into ovens?”, “If the president decides not to prosecute illegal immigrants who aren’t causing any trouble because we barely have enough resources to catch those who are causing trouble, what’s to stop him from deciding not to enforce labor laws in Texas?”

It’s all fake. Deciding not to enforce labor laws in Texas isn’t like deciding not to prosecute illegal immigrants who aren’t causing trouble. It would be more like deciding not to prosecute anybody named Teo. Cruz’s scenaries imply the use of arbitrary criteria rather than prioritizing in accordance with established guidelines. A better labor law analogy would be: Can the president, if he barely has enough resources to close down millions of sweatshops, decide not to prosecute companies for violations of ergonomic standards?

The answer to that question would be “Yes”.

Cruz’s questions weren’t designed to learn anything about Loretta Lynch. Almost everyone, including Republicans, seems to agree that she’s well qualified for the job. Republicans just want to use these hearings as yet another forum to to attack the president, and it seems they’re willing to deny the country the appointment of a very competent attorney general unless she provides them with soundbites that would help them do so.

Executive Delay


In both number and significance, Obama’s use of executive orders pales against some of his predecessors. A simple search of “executive order” at lists far greater exercises of executive power than President Obama has used. Even eliminating such egregious abuses as the internment of Japanese Americans, the list of executive orders includes such sweeping acts as the establishment of the Peace Corps, creation of military bases on foreign soil, integrating the armed forces, and ending discrimination in housing. Wars were entered and exited by executive order, and more recently, we have George Bush’s warrantless wiretapping and enhanced interrogation techniques.

Today, President Obama has been accused of unprecedented abuse of his executive authority, largely stemming from his order to delay implementation of the employer mandate, which is part of the Affordable Care Act. By delaying the order, Obama is accused of violating Article Two of the United States Constitution, which commands the president to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed”.

But delays of implementation have been used frequently in the past. In the early 90’s several laws passed by Congress were delayed, with Bush (Sr.) administration officials blaming Congress for writing laws that were too complex to enforce, according to an article in the New York Times by Robert Pear dated March 31, 1991. According to that same article, the Reagan administration also used delays to “enforce its philosophy of less government and to save money”.

It might be a constitutional violation if Obama used executive orders to thwart duly passed legislation, but Obama delayed the employer mandate to ensure the Affordable Care Act could be properly enacted despite initial problems. He did so to address complaints from conservative organizations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – complaints about difficulty in compliance which in turn would mean difficulty in enforcement. Some of those difficulties stem from Obama’s opponents’ efforts to make the Affordable Care Act as difficult to implement as possible.

Any doubt that the delay in implementing the employer mandate was an effort to ensure the law was properly executed should be alleviated by the realization that those who are most bitterly speaking out against the delay are those who want to kill the act. Surely it is those people, not the President, who are working against the faithful execution of federal law.