President Barack Obama, like many presidents before him, has gone too far in his use of executive power and is not showing due respect for the U.S. government's system of separated powers, said Mark Rozell, professor of public policy at George Mason University, in a Wednesday interview with The Christian Post.
"President Obama is following the lead of many of his predecessors in trying to stretch the limits of executive power where ever he can," explained Rozell, who has published research and testified before Congress on executive power.
There have been many examples in which Obama has been criticized for his use of executive power without showing due respect for the proper role of Congress. When he decided to involve the U.S. military in Libya's civil war, for instance, he claimed he had the right, under the Constitution, to unilaterally make those decisions. On immigration, he essentially implemented the "Dream Act" by claiming prosecutorial discretion. And last week, he invoked executive privilege as a basis for not turning over documents in a congressional investigation into Justice Department wrongdoing.
"This is a president who, back in 2007 and 2008," Rozell recalled, "made assertions, both in writing and on the campaign trail, that he would govern differently than George W. Bush on matters of presidential power -- he would respect separation of powers and not act unilaterally on a variety of fronts."
Despite these promises, Rozell said, Obama has been much like Bush with regard to executive power.
"It's been rather striking how much his leadership in these areas has been so similar to that of his predecessor."
Stretching the bounds of executive power has been a pattern of many recent presidents, Rozell claimed. Partly for this reason, political scientists often refer to the presidency since Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the "modern presidency" or the "imperial presidency."
"All I can say is that, time and again, presidents make promises to do things differently," Rozell said, but "when they come to office they discover the utility of various presidential powers.
"Presidents get frustrated with trying to deal with separation of powers and constraints on their authority and they discover over time that, if there are ways to act unilaterally and get things done and look strong, they'll do it. I don't think it's very good for a system of checks and balances that our system has evolved this way."
Rozell recently coauthored an editorial for the New York Daily News in which he referred to Obama's claims of executive privilege in the "Fast and Furious" investigation as "phony." On Thursday, the House of Representatives held Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over documents related to the investigation.
In some cases, Rozell said, protecting the internal deliberations of the executive branch is appropriate. But in this instance, Congress, as part of its legitimate oversight function, is investigating wrongdoing within the Justice Department and has a right to see documents related to the investigation.
"In cases where there are credible allegations of wrongdoing in the executive branch," Rozell explained, "I always say that Congress' need for investigation has to trump the president's claim of privilege. To me, that's the key.
"There are allegations of serious wrongdoing or complete incompetence in this case. Congress has the investigatory power, it's a core function of the institution. It cannot perform that function without documents germane to this scandal investigation. No matter that the president has a legitimate right to executive privilege under certain circumstances, I think in this case it has to yield to Congress's needs."
Rozell is a longtime critic of inappropriate claims of executive privilege. During the George W. Bush administration, he criticized one of Bush's claims of executive privilege in testimony before Congress. In 2010, the third edition of his book, Executive Privilege: Presidential Power, Secrecy and Accountability, was published.
"I don't care if it's a Democrat or a Republican," Rozell said, "if the president is wrong he's wrong."