Sen. Jeff Flake, the lame-duck Arizona senator who’s long clashed with President Donald Trump, is once again threatening to use his position to express concerns about executive power and the fate of the Russia investigation. It’s not an empty threat. But it’s not yet clear to what extent he’ll follow through.
President Trump denounced arguments against his immigration order as “disgraceful” on Wednesday, a day after three federal appellate judges lobbed critical inquiries at those challenging and defending the plan, and suggested a ruling against his administration would be based on politics and not a fair reading of the law. Trump insisted the order was within his executive powers and “a bad high school student would understand this.”
For political and moral reasons, it is important to remember that very little of what the President is now doing is possible without a compliant Congress. Executive orders in most cases fill in the blanks that legislation leaves to the President's discretion. So this isn't just a matter of the sway a Congress of the President's party can exercise over him, which is substantial. In many or most cases, Executive Orders and Actions can literally be overruled with new legislation.
Democrats who defended the extraordinary expansion of executive power under President Obama may suddenly be having second thoughts. The Democrats went silent on executive overreach when Obama was elected. When the New York Times revealed Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program in 2005, 60 percent of registered Democrats thought the program was “unacceptable.” But after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed a dramatically larger surveillance apparatus in 2013, a 61 percent of Democrats said the opposite - presumably because they trusted the man in charge.