AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
With narrow majorities in both chambers of Congress and internal divisions threatening to tear the party apart, Democrats have largely failed to pass most of their legislative priorities heading into what looks to be a disastrous midterm cycle. But even with their radical agenda on life support, progressives aren’t giving up on their stated mission to “remake” America. Instead, they’re now hoping to bypass the legislative process entirely by imploring President Joe Biden to implement their policy goals via executive order.
Last Thursday, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) released its “Recommendations for Executive Action” in a not-so-subtle hint to the Biden administration that Congress is unlikely to move on any other major Democratic priorities before the midterms this November. The 7-page document outlines a slew of recycled policies that had previously been introduced in progressive legislation like the Green New Deal and Biden’s Build Back Better Act.
Among the extraordinarily radical policies outlined in the plan are declaring a “national climate emergency,” invoking the Defense Production Act to force energy companies to focus more on renewables, canceling student debt through executive action, pushing more states and localities to end cash bail, and “decline to prosecute smaller crimes to advance racial and economic justice,” and introducing a mountain of new regulations at the IRS designed to roll back many of the benefits of the Trump 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
In a telling statement about just how far left the Democratic Party has gone in recent years, CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal insisted that “the focus here was not necessarily to put out every fabulous idea that the progressive movement has but really to focus on things that we think are doable.” In other words, progressives have now become so detached from reality that they think letting more criminals back onto the streets during an ongoing crime wave and attacking the energy industry even as gas prices are at all-time highs are some of the least extreme policies they have in their portfolio.
“This isn’t about abandoning the legislative path,” Jayapal insisted. But that pledge rings hollow given that Democrats are widely viewed as likely to lose control of Congress this fall. Rather, the move comes across as a desperate last-ditch attempt by Democrats to enact some of their agenda before it’s too late.
That strategy is particularly concerning from a legal standpoint, as many of the policies the CPC asked Biden to enact are likely to be in violation of federal law. For example, the plan calls on Biden to “end the use of Remain in Mexico (MPP) and Title 42 expulsions,” even though a federal judge has already ordered Biden to keep Remain in Mexico in place after he tried to rescind it last year.
But elected Democrats have appeared generally unconcerned with the legality and Constitutionality of their various proposals, content with the fact that the policies could remain in place at least until a court has time to review them and strike them down. When asked about potential challenges by the Supreme Court, Rep. Cori Bush, a leading member of the CPC, said only, “We have to be able to move forward with some of these things.” Rep. Mark Pocan, another CPC member, similarly shrugged off questions surrounding the lawfulness of the proposals, saying, “We’re just encouraging the President.”
Democrats and the Biden administration may also be hopeful that the courts will uphold potential Biden executive orders in spite of the legal issues they present, emboldened by a number of rulings in recent years that backed legally dubious policies for non-legal reasons. Republicans will undoubtedly recall the controversial 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2020 upholding the Obama DACA and DREAMers programs on the grounds that “people rely on them” rather than any legal justification. If Biden can implement similar policies that people come to “rely” on, no matter their legality, Democrats have a precedent to expect more favorable decisions from the High Court, even one that is controlled by conservatives.
Perhaps unintentionally, some of the things the CPC chose to include in the document also raise questions about whether Democrats even think the Biden administration is capable of acting on them. One of the first sections is titled “Decisively End the Global Pandemic.” Do Democrats really think that the Biden team has not been working to accomplish that goal since day one? Or, more likely, do they just think that Biden has done such a poor job that someone else needs to explicitly and publicly tell them how to do it better?
In yet another sign that progressives now completely dominate the Democratic Party, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been largely mum on the plan, telling reporters only that “it’s very important for the executive to act if we cannot get legislative action immediately.”
Self-avowed “moderate” Democrats have also been reluctant to criticize the plan. The New Democrat Coalition, which describes itself as “pro-economy” and includes a number of the most vulnerable incumbents facing reelection this fall, declined to either endorse or oppose the CPC document. “We can’t really control what the executive does,” said Rep. Scott Peters, the vice-chair of the coalition. “We can certainly suggest what President Biden should do, but our job is to legislate.”
As many conservative pundits have pointed out, Democrats’ willingness to cede what authority Congress has left to the executive also reeks of hypocrisy given their hysterical response to comparatively moderate executive actions taken by former President Trump.
In 2017, for instance, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said that Trump’s executive orders rolling back Obama’s executive orders – which are by definition unilateral actions taken to direct officials in the executive branch – reflected a “lack of bipartisan cooperation [that] really impedes any good for the country.” Following several executive actions in 2018 aimed at increasing accountability within the executive branch – again clearly within the prerogatives of the Executive Office of the President – 45 Senate Democrats penned a letter to Trump asking him to “cease and desist” from implementing them. Now, those same elected Democrats are poised to stand by and even cheer Biden on if he takes actions that are far beyond his legal authority as president.
Joe Biden now has a choice to make. With his party unlikely to retain control of Congress after November’s elections, the window to pass his agenda via legislation is likely almost closed, leaving executive action as the only recourse to see his progressive vision realized. Yet it was largely due to similarly disastrous executive actions throughout the first two years of his presidency—such as canceling the Keystone XL Pipeline, pausing all illegal alien deportations, and forcing radical gender theory on schools—that Biden put both his party and the country in such a dire condition as it is today.
Whether Biden follows through on these demands or not, it’s clear that the progressive left’s grip on the Democratic Party remains as strong as ever, and that the policies set forth in their latest plan will be the blueprint for Democrat governance and candidates for the foreseeable future.