Thursday, January 19, 2017

Appointments, commutations and presidential power

I don't really have anything to say about the propriety of the Manning commutation.  I'm a political scientist, not a lawyer, Jim!  It does, however, give us an interesting contrast to the hearings on Trump's cabinet picks.

Pardons and commutations are among the few truly unchecked presidential powers.  Cabinet picks, however, must be confirmed by the Senate.  In times of either divided government, or a unified government in which the president's party is willing to oppose the president, that means the president needs to cater to the preferences of the Senate.  That isn't the case now.  Senate Republicans won't block any of Trump's nominees.  Why not?

First, Trump.  This is the same party that was terrified of and hated Trump throughout the 2016 primary campaign.  But nobody in the party stood up to him throughout the campaign.  They certainly won't do so now.  Are they really so afraid of a tweet?  It seems that way.  It is difficult to understand why a party that always clearly hated the guy has never been able to rally to stop him.  Just look at poor Mitt...

They certainly won't oppose him now, on cabinet picks.  Legislation will be another matter, and I'll be writing about that...

The other issue is general party unity, and as disorganized as the Republicans have looked recently, they are relatively unified on a lot of stuff.  Except Trump, and ironically, his picks are relatively normal Republicans, if sometimes inexperienced.

What is interesting, though, is that his picks don't always agree with him, even sometimes on Russia.  This is where things can get messy.  On one hand, these are the people charged with carrying out his policy positions.  If they don't agree with his policy positions, that's a recipe for trouble.  Then again, remember that Trump doesn't really have conventional policy positions.  He isn't doing this for any reason other than to be feted.

What happens, then, when Trump takes a tiny hands-off approach to policy, leaving things to cabinet secretaries who don't agree with him?  Well, he may have sacrificed a lot of his real power, so I guess we'll find out.

Social science buzzword!  "Principal-agent problem."  It is when the decision-maker (the "principal") has trouble getting the person charged with implementing the decision (the "agent") to carry it out.

Did you know it is hard to fire a cabinet secretary?  Go read about Nixon.  I bet Trump never bothered...

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