The opening days of the administration of Joe Biden as U.S. president have continued two themes of the last administration: using impeachment to address the perceived misdeeds of Donald Trump and the rise of the executive order as a method of legislating without legislation. Two free chapters from a new CQ Press book offer context for understanding these issues surrounding the nexus of legislature and executive.
In Congress Reconsidered, contributing authors dive into the structure, power, and role of Congress. The text, edited by Lawrence C. Dodd, Bruce I. Oppenheimer and C. Lawrence Evans, shares the latest research in congressional studies, focusing on recent trends of political polarization and analysis of the Senate and the House of Representatives. A useful resource to understanding the gravity of the current political divide, the political science-driven book provides insight into the current chaotic election landscape and how we the people can better understand it.
The book’s 15th chapter, on congressional investigations, pointedly asks, asks, “Has Polarization (and Trump) Broken the Investigative Check?” The chapter’s authors, Douglas L. Kriner of Cornell University and Eric Schickler at the University of California, Berkeley, review the history of intransigence in the American executive branch, and predicted — more directly than they may have intended, as it turns out — “If the impeachment saga is a template for future presidents, it will have implications extending far beyond Trump’s last day in office.” they then add, “Trump’s unprecedented obstruction of Congress could seriously alter the balance of power across the branches for the foreseeable future.”
The next chapter, by Princeton University’s Nolan McCarty, takes a deeper dive into “How Congressional Polarization is Transforming the Separation of Powers.” Focusing specifically on three areas of legislative purview – passing laws, appropriating money and approving executive appointments — McCarty suggests that the decline in legislative performance attributed to polarization also harms the executive, even as the executive assumes more power to overcome gridlock.
“[T]he substitution effect favoring the executive may pale in comparison to the lost policy impact due to the complementarities between legislative statutes and executive power. Many tools of executive policy making depend in large part of statutory delegation from Congress. A less active Congress gives the president much less to work with.”
Two other chapters from Congress Reconsidered ask the baseline question: How did U.S. end up so dysfunctional?
The first chapter, “The U.S. Senate and the Meaning of Dysfunction,” written by Evans and Wendy J. Schiller, provides an analysis of the evolving role of dysfunction in the U.S. Senate and its consequences on political decisions, legislation, and elections that have come from the upper chamber over the years.
“The troubling events of 2020 demonstrate just how critical a properly functioning Senate can be to the welfare of the nation. Taken to their extremes, partisan posturing, a disinclination to accept middle ground, and a dearth of informed public deliberation eventually could impede the country’s ability to confront dire national emergencies. And contrary to Mitch McConnell’s adage, if such a crisis of government ever occurs, the most important vote for senators may no longer be the next vote but the one they just cast,” the authors write.
In chapter two, “Lending and Reclaiming Power: Majority Leadership in the House from the 1950s to Trump,” John H. Aldrich and David W. Rohde assess the rules of governance for the House of Representatives and the changing shifts of power in the majority party. How has the House’s structure changed over time and how does that impact the majority’s ability to achieve its aims?
With the state of the Senate undetermined, the spread of misinformation by our own leaders, and challenges to democracy, the value of a political science understanding remains invaluable when regarding the future of our country in the many years to come.