Capitol Hill watchdogs are baring their teeth
President Obama would rather look to the future, but Democrats persist in probing the Bush administration’s alleged misdeeds.
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“We will consult with the new counsel to the president and see if they have any differing advice and, if so, how any differences should be addressed,” he added. “If there’s a reversal of that, and if there is some legal issue over the right to exert executive privilege, they are difficult and interesting legal issues but they’re not Mr. Rove’s.”Skip to next paragraph
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The issue reopens some of the most toxic debates of the Bush years, especially over whether the former president abused power and politicized the Justice Department. At a time when the new president is looking for bipartisan support on a broad range of issues, especially the economy, it sends the wrong message, Republicans say.
“No good purpose is served by persecuting those who served in the previous administration. President Obama promised to usher in an era of change and bipartisan harmony. Unfortunately, the continued effort by some Democrats to malign former Bush administration officials is politics as usual,” says Rep. Lamar Smith (R) of Texas, the top Republican on the House Judiciary panel.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled that the new Congress would look forward, not backward. But she has also committed to defending congressional prerogatives to conduct oversight and investigation.
“Congress does have constitutional authority and will exercise that authority whenever appropriate,” said Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami. “But she said on her first day as speaker that we have to look forward, not backward, which is what the American people want us to do.”
So far, the Obama administration has not commented on how it will interpret issues of executive privilege affecting the previous administration.
“Certainly the rule of law is something that’s very important to this president, as is the pursuit of justice of those who have been wronged. But with a huge crisis and two wars, it’s not a top priority of his to start out by looking over what happened in the last administration,” says an administration official not authorized to speak for attribution.
Obama’s early decisions on the exercise of executive power will be among the closest watched of his presidency.
“This case exemplifies the tension he now faces. The day after huge layoffs by most of the major businesses in the country, he’s meeting with Republicans trying to win their support for an economic stimulus bill, while across the aisle, Democrats in Congress have just subpoenaed one of the major figures of the Bush administration for what could be a serious investigation,” says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University. “The clash between dealing with anger of the past and the need to focus on the future is now front and center in the early part of his presidency.”