The Trump Ryan Example
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
‘The question is what is it that we need to do to unify the Republican Party and all strains of conservative wings of the party. We had a very good and encouraging productive conversation on just how to do that. It was important that we discussed our differences that we have but it was also important that we discussed the core principles that tie us together. Principles like the Constitution, the separation of powers, the fact that we have an executive that is going way beyond the boundaries of the Constitution and how it’s important to us that we restore Article 1 of the Constitution.’
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Those words from the Speaker of the American House, Paul Ryan, after his meeting with Donald Trump, mark the most encouraging moment of the campaign so far. It’s not just that they offer the hope that peace might be made within the Republican Party. Mr. Ryan’s words offer something more than that. For the most worrisome rift in America today is not that between the various Republican factions. It is the rift between the President and the Congress.
Bridging that divide is holy writ here at the Sun. This is why, in advance of their meeting, we issued the editorial “Paul Ryan’s Powers.” It noted Mr. Trump’s talk about how he wants cut taxes, renegotiate our foreign debts, rebuild the military, and deregulate business. “That’s all great,” we added, “but the Constitution (which Mr. Trump would, if elected, have to swear to preserve, protect, and defend) grants every one of those powers to the lanky Wisconsinite and his colleagues in the Congress.”
Democrats like to blame the dysfunction on the Congress. It’s not the president who shut down the government, they’ll insist, but the radicals in the Congress. When Congress disapproves of the Iran pact, the President goes off and inks the pact anyhow — and then takes it to the United Nations and to maneuver against America’s own legislature. Mr. Obama ignores the Congress on immigration and Obamacare spending. It’s hard to remember an administration so unable — or unwilling — to work with Congress.
Messrs. Trump and Ryan met for less than an hour, but in 45 minutes they seem to have discussed their differences in the framework of the Constitution and its bedrock principles. This is the significance of Mr. Ryan’s remarks. To hear him report that they talked about a restoration of Article 1 is music to our ears. It’s not that we oppose a strong president (we were writing editorials during Reagan years). It’s that we also support a strong legislature.
Its powers are the first powers of government. They are enumerated and written down. They include, to name but a few, the power to tax, to borrow, to regulate, to coin, and to declare war (but not to declare peace, which is not granted to any branch of the government (our own view is that it can be done only by a surrendering enemy)). The idea that a president can proceed without reference to the possession of these powers by the Congress is scandalous.
The president has his own powers, of course. These include his powers as commander-in-chief, to make treaties (provided that two thirds of the Senators in the chamber concur); to require opinions from department heads; to pardon offenses against the United States; to appoint judges, government ministers, and ambassadors; to commission offices, and to fill vacancies during a legislative recess. We wouldn’t say these powers are nothing. But they are basically it.
So it’s as refreshing as can be to hear that Messrs. Trump and Ryan discussed the importance of a restoration of Article 1. Let them keep going. And also move on to the disabilities that are laid on the government. These prohibitions — things it can never do — are basic stuff, like making a law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging freedom of speech, or infringing the right of the people to keep and bear arms, etc. All are denials of power to the government.
The Founders famously feared factions, a point well-marked in Dan Henninger’s column in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Yet the Constitution does not contain the word faction; the power to unify is one that is, to use the constitutional lingo, “reserved” to the people. The unifying element to the Constitution is that it is the only law that all officers, legislators, and judges of the federal and state governments must be bound by oath to support. We’ll soon see whether Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders will be able to rise to the example Messrs. Ryan and Trump have just set.