For the past few months, many conservatives, led by Glenn Beck and Fox News, have been on a witch-hunt against the Obama administration’s so-called “czars,” accusing the White House of a power grab because they “are not subjected to congressional oversight” (despite the fact that a Fox News reporter noted that “there is no constitutional issue”).
The Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, led by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), held a hearing on these “czars” yesterday to determine their constitutionality. During an interview sometime after the hearing with Fox’s Greta Van Susteren, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) — the subcommittee’s Ranking Member — cited “18 different” czars that are “supposedly” of concern (meanwhile, Fox ran an on-screen graphic showing 30 supposed “czars”). But later in the interview, Coburn said that even after the hearing, the constitutional question on these “czars” is still open:
COBURN: So I think we don’t know, and I think the general, fair inquiry into what is going on without partisan sniping and to say what is really going on, is there any violation of the constitutional — any intended violation of the constitutional prerogatives of the legislative branch over advice and consent. And I don’t think we have the answer yet.
Coburn must not have been paying any attention to his own committee’s hearing. In fact, all five constitutional experts that testified during yesterday’s hearing concluded that these “czars” are legal:
Bradley Patterson, a senior analyst for the Brookings Institution who served on the White House staffs of Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Ford, said Obama clearly had the power to appoint such top-level aides under the historic prerogative of a president to hire White House personnel without benefit of the Senate’s advice and consent.
“The president’s staff are personally responsible only to the president, and in the end he is the only ‘czar’ that is,” said Patterson in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee. “And he is accountable to the American people.”
The special advisers’ “practical authority,” said University of Virginia Law professor John Harrison during the hearing, “is not legal authority, and as long as the distinction is rigorously maintained there will be no legal problem.”