A sharp breach of trust between Congress and the Obama administration is being cited as collateral damage from President Obama's controversial executive decision to swap five ranking Taliban members for POW Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
The swap, which was done without the requisite notification to Congress, is the latest example of what critics say is Obama's pattern of circumventing Congress on high profile issues, which many lawmakers believe further diminishes any chances for bipartisan compromise on major legislation, from immigration to the environment.
“If it was an isolated incident, then maybe you could just say, ‘Oh, this was an emergency situation.’ But what you have is a pattern of the administration ignoring the law, whether it’s health care, immigration or now national security,” Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, told ABC News in an interview this week. “And obviously those sorts of patterns undermine our system of government.”
Critics tick off a number of incidents which they believe the Obama administration thumbed its nose at Congress.
- In 2011, Obama told Congress he would not enforce the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, the legal prohibition on federal recognition of same-sex marriages, prompting House Speaker John Boehner to launch a legal defense of the law himself.
- The president directed the Department of Homeland Security to forgive more than 2,000 undocumented immigrants facing deportation, not just irking conservatives, but possibly killing the prospects for immigration reform in the long-run.
- He delayed a primary revenue source of the Affordable Care Act, putting off the business mandate and eventually delaying several other provisions of his signature bill.
Thornberry, who has lined up to take over the gavel when House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon retires at the end of the Congress, isn’t speaking just for Republicans. Democrats, too, have expressed outrage over the president’s apparent violation of law by failing to notify Congress of the impending deal to release five detainees from Guantanamo.
“I strongly believe that we should have been consulted, that the law should have been followed, and I very much regret that that was not the case,” Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told reporters following a classified briefing Tuesday. “It comes with some surprise and dismay that the transfers went ahead with no consultation, totally not following the law.”
The only member of Congress who apparently knew Obama would execute the Bergdahl deal was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who said the White House told him the day before the swap.
For months, Boehner has insisted that House Republicans simply do not trust President Obama to enforce laws passed by Congress, giving the speaker some space to resist efforts to advance immigration reform in the House.
“The president has responsibility here as well,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said May 22. “When he continues to ignore ‘Obamacare,’ his own law, 38 unilateral delays, he reduces the confidence of the American people in his willingness to implement an immigration law the way we would pass it. So the president has to rebuild this trust if we're going to be able to do this.”
After the Bergdahl swap, an aide to the speaker reiterated the trust gap that divides Pennsylvania Avenue continues to grow.
“Clearly, the president’s own action on a range of issues continue to undermine the American peoples trust in him,” Boehner press secretary Michael Steel said.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who served as chair of the House Foreign Affairs committee from 2011 to 2013, confirmed that she attended the Nov. 30, 2011 and Jan. 31, 2012 interagency briefings when the deal was brought to select senior members of Congress, and said that the group made explicitly clear to administration officials that they were opposed to any deal for Bergdahl that would “benefit the Taliban or jeopardize the safety and security” of servicemen and women, and the country’s national security interests.
“There are many lingering questions about the manner in which he was first captured and what he has been doing since,” Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., wrote in a statement. “The White House has plenty of questions that it must answer, not just to Congress or the American people, but to our men and women in uniform whose security may now be compromised.”
McKeon has called for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to testify at his committee on June 11. The Pentagon confirmed Hagel will appear at the hearing in open session to answer questions about the exchange.