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Woodward: it's 'madness' for Obama to follow federal law

David Ignatius argues in his new column that congressional Republicans are the "primary culprits" in the sequestration mess, and it's time for President Obama
Bob Woodward
Bob Woodward

David Ignatius argues in his new column that congressional Republicans are the "primary culprits" in the sequestration mess, and it's time for President Obama to step up. How? Obama "should take the steering wheel firmly in hand and drive the car toward the destination where most maps show we need to be heading.... It's time for an intervention, to take the keys away."

Got it. But before we move on, perhaps someone can remind me: how is this legal?

I don't mean to be a stickler for details, but we live in a constitutional system in which there's a rule of law. Congress has the sole power to allocate funds and lay taxes. To be sure, the legislative branch is acting with breathtaking recklessness, acting against the nation's interests, but the last time I checked, there is no legal mechanism in place that allows the executive branch to "take the keys away" from the legislative branch. Indeed, I believe that would be fairly characterized as a coup.

My point is not to pick on Ignatius, whose frustrations I share. My point is that many exasperated pundits, when they're not reflexively and unfairly blaming "both sides" for Washington's ills, have also abandoned Civics 101. Ignatius would like to see Obama take away Congress' power of the purse; Ron Fournier thinks Obama can issue orders that Congress must follow, and Bob Woodward thinks the president should simply start ignoring federal laws.

"Can you imagine Ronald Reagan sitting there and saying 'Oh, by the way, I can't do this because of some budget document?'" Woodward said Wednesday on msnbc's "Morning Joe.""Or George W. Bush saying, 'You know, I'm not going to invade Iraq because I can't get the aircraft carriers I need' or even Bill Clinton saying, 'You know, I'm not going to attack Saddam Hussein's intelligence headquarters,' as he did when Clinton was president because of some budget document?" Woodward added. "Under the Constitution, the president is commander-in-chief and employs the force. And so we now have the president going out because of this piece of paper and this agreement, I can't do what I need to do to protect the country. That's a kind of madness that I haven't seen in a long time."

There's some "madness" on display, all right, but I don't think it's coming from the White House.

In this case, Woodward is outraged because the deep sequester cuts to the Pentagon have interfered with the deployment of the U.S.S. Harry Truman, which will remain stateside due to budget constraints.

For Woodward, there's no reason for the president to be limited by a "piece of paper" or "some budget document." What the journalist is referring to, however, is a little something known as the current law of the United States.

In other words, Bob Woodward -- who used to go after presidents for breaking the law -- went on national television this morning to condemn a sitting president for not ignoring federal law.

In Woodward's mind, President Obama should simply blow off legal constraints, because it's only written on a "piece of paper." I wonder what Woodward might have said 40 years ago if Nixon defended his actions by saying it would be "madness" for a president to feel limited by laws written on "pieces of paper."

I really don't know what's gotten into Woodward lately, but it's a genuine shame. The man is a legendary journalist, but he clearly has some kind of unusual contempt for President Obama, and it's leading him to make some alarming errors of fact and judgment.

I can only hope Woodward pauses, takes stock, considers his recent missteps, and gets back on track.