Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

July 21, 2009


Politico - President Barack Obama has kindled a firestorm on Capitol Hill by appointing an ever-expanding team of "czars" to help him deliver on campaign pledges as varied as reforming health care , achieving energy independence, combating climate change and thwarting cyberterrorism.

The president's czars often wield powers greater than those of Cabinet secretaries yet, quite unlike Cabinet secretaries and other high-ranking executive officers, the czars are not subject to Senate confirmation.

. . . When the founders gathered at the Philadelphia State House in 1787 to draft a new constitution, their purpose was to create a new structure whose intersecting powers and intermingled functions would repudiate the English parliamentary system and its consolidation of power in the executive branch. Hence the advice and consent clause, which requires the president to obtain Senate approval for his principal appointments, including Cabinet secretaries, ambassadors and other high-ranking officers. This separation of executive and legislative powers was, for the founders, the cornerstone of the American constitutional edifice.

. . . Congressional leaders from both parties are understandably troubled that Obama has installed his czars without the Senate's advice and consent. They see it as stripping them of their constitutional prerogatives and more ominously as an arrogation of power that could be a prologue to the now-familiar abuses of executive authority that characterized the previous administration.

. . . Nothing in the Constitution expressly prevents the White House from tapping expert advisers to help him do his job. And the advice and consent clause, in particular, does not require confirmation for presidential advisers, nor has it been invoked in the past to derail czar appointments ever since they came into vogue in the last half-century.


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