COLUMBUS, Ga. – Republicans, poised for strong gains in the midterm elections, are offering starkly conflicting messages about President Obama to rally their voters. In one moment, they say the president is feckless and weak. But in the next, they say Obama is presiding over an “imperial presidency” that is exercising power that verges on dictatorial.
So far, they are succeeding in having it both ways.
Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., who has criticized Obama for “leading from behind” on foreign policy, stood before a gathering of Republican women here recently, his voice loud and deliberate, as he raced through a long list of areas where he said the Obama administration has veered “totally out of control” – the health care law, Internal Revenue Service treatment of conservative groups and the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, to name a few.
“They’re a symptom of a government that has just totally left the bounds of our U.S. Constitution,” he said, “and the solution is putting this government back on the course that our founding fathers gave us in the U.S. Constitution.”
If Republicans have a rallying cry heading into the 2014 midterm elections, it is their unified anthem against Obama’s “imperial presidency” – a two-word, bumper sticker-ready slogan that encapsulates their criticisms about government overreach through Obama’s prolific use of executive actions.
Republicans have largely pounced on Obama’s decision to delay certain parts of his signature health care law as evidence that he views himself as above the law. But they also point to an array of other areas in which they believe the president is acting outside his governing mandate like his 2012 decision to stop enforcing some of the existing immigration laws pertaining to young unauthorized immigrants.
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University who has testified before Congress on the issue of executive power, said that while the phrase “imperial presidency” dates back to President Richard Nixon, the Obama and George W. Bush administrations “have really challenged the assumptions of the framers” of the Constitution.
“President Obama has aggregated power in the executive branch to a degree most thought would have been practically impossible,” he said.
Concerns about Obama’s big government agenda and “imperial presidency” are a common refrain at town meetings in Republican districts, Republican lawmakers and aides said.
“This is what we hear about all the time when we’re back in our districts,” said Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho.
“They’re concerned that you have a president who has decided to violate the law, who has decided to not comply with certain laws, that he decides which laws he will execute and which laws he will not execute,” he said.
The White House says Republicans are walking contradictions, accusing Obama of behaving imperialistically while simultaneously criticizing him for being a weak leader, especially on foreign policy.