When congressional Republicans began pushing back last week against President Obama’s use of executive orders, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) helped lead the charge. The Wisconsin Republican, who’s memory has often been suspect, apparently forgot what an executive order even is, complaining that Obama is trying to “write laws.”
“It’s not the number of executive orders, it’s the scope of the executive orders. It’s the fact that he’s actually contradicting law, like in the health care case [when Obama delayed provisions of the Affordable Care Act], or proposing new laws without going through Congress, George, that’s the issue,” Ryan told George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.”
“We have an increasingly lawless presidency where he is actually doing the job of Congress, writing new policies and new laws without going through Congress. Presidents don’t write laws, Congress does,” the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee said.
Ryan added that Obama’s approach to governing is “dangerous.”
To be sure, we’ve all grown quite accustomed to members of Congress using aggressive, sometimes caustic, rhetoric when presenting an argument, but this is something rather specific. In this case, Paul Ryan – an influential House member, the chairman of a powerful committee, a former candidate for national office, and a possible presidential aspirant – told a national television audience that the Obama presidency is “increasingly lawless.”
That isn’t ordinarily the sort of charge a congressional leader throws around casually. Indeed, it’s awfully close to a leading, national Republican figure accusing the president of high crimes – if it’s the job of the executive branch to execute the nation’s federal laws, what could be more serious than alleging a “lawless presidency”?
Unfortunately, however, Paul Ryan’s allegations are not in any way rooted in reality.
The Wisconsin congressman, for example, argued that Obama, who’s issued fewer executive orders per year than any president in over 115 years, is wrong because of “the scope” of his executive orders. There is no evidence to substantiate the allegation – there’s nothing special or unprecedented about Obama’s orders that make them more expansive or ambitious than any of his predecessors’ orders.
Ryan went on to argue that the president is “actually contradicting law, like in the health care case.” This, too, is wrong – to delay implementation of minor provisions that aren’t yet ready is not to contradict federal law.
The Budget Committee chairman added that Obama is writing “new laws without going through Congress.” This, too, is alarmingly wrong – to issue an executive order is not to write a law. This really isn’t that complicated, which makes it all the more curious that Ryan is so badly confused.
After hearing all of this, George Stephanopoulos asked the right question: “If you think he’s lawless, circumventing the Constitution, are you going move to impeach?”
Ryan laughed and said, “No, I’m, look, well, we have a difference of opinion, clearly, and some of these are going to get fought out on court.” He then went back to saying Obama’s approach to governing is inconsistent with “the way our Constitution works.”
As a factual matter, Ryan doesn’t appear to have any idea what he’s talking about, but more to the point, he seems eager to play an odd rhetorical game. On the one hand, he believes Obama’s presidency is “lawless,” “dangerous,” and acting in violation of the law. On the other hand, Ryan does not intend to pursue impeachment.
The problem, of course, is the incompatibility of these two positions. Paul Ryan can’t have it both ways – if the congressman genuinely believes this is a “lawless presidency,” Ryan has a responsibility to do more than complain on a Sunday show. His arguments appear detached from reality, but that’s not the point – if Ryan believes his own rhetoric, he doesn’t have the luxury of simply laughing off the prospect of impeachment.
The question then becomes, does Paul Ryan genuinely believe his misguided arguments or not?