With calls for his impeachment beginning before he assumed office, Donald Trump has not taken a cautious approach to his first week as President. He has boldy wielded his new Presidential power, issuing six executive orders. One of those executive orders, restricting the entry of refugees and citizens of predomintantly Muslim countries into the US, has created an uproar, leading to protests across the country and outrage from around the world.
Now Trump’s executive order, entitled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”, has been issued an emergency stay by a federal judge, citing potential violations of the US constitution. Ultimately, the US legal system cannot stop an executive order if it is deemed constitutional. And Congress can’t directly stop it either. The only way to stop a President who abuses the power to issue executive orders is impeachment.
Executive orders are one way a President can exercise their authority. They are directives from the President that can have the same power as a federal law. Executive orders do not require Congressional approval.
However, executive orders are subject to judicial review and can be struck down if they are deemed by the courts to be unsupported by statute or the Constitution. An emergency stay can be issued by a judge. This is normally done when the judge determines that the executive order can cause irreparable injury. But the stay is only in effect until a determination can be made on the constitutionality of the executive order. Ultimately, Congress can pass a new law which would override an executive order, but this is subject to a Presidential veto.
As long as the executive order is deemed constitutional, it cannot effectively be blocked by the courts or Congress, which gives the President a great deal of power.
Preventing Abuse of Power: Impeachment
So how does the US Constitution prevent the abuse of executive power? Impeachment. Impeachment is a mechanism for the removal of the President from office by US Congress. The Constitution allows the House of Representatives to impeach a President for many reasons, including abuse of power. Without impeachment, the executive power of the office of the President could lead to dictator-like behavior.
So how does the US Constitution prevent the abuse of executive power? Impeachment.
So, what happens if the people democratically elect a President, but once that President assumes office, the people realize that they made a mistake? What can be done if that President continually issues executive orders, while technically constitutional, are against the will of the people? And how does impeachment help, when the President’s party controls both the House and the Senate, which would need a simple majority vote to start impeachment proceedings (in the House) and a two-thirds majority vote (in the Senate) to remove the President from office?
Politics of Impeachment
The history of the use of impeachment in the US shows that it is fundamentally political. Impeaching a popular President is a risky political move. But impeaching a President with dropping popularity can be a good political move. The impeachment of Richard Nixon only gained steam once his approval ratings started tanking.
The history of the use of impeachment in the US shows that it is fundamentally political.
All Presidents have political opponents, obviously within the oppossing parties but also within their own party. Donald Trump is certainly no exception. In fact, Trump may have an unprecedented number of now-quiet opponents in his own party. It wasn’t that long ago that many respected members of the Republican party were rebelling against Trump during the Presidential nominations and election campaign.
If Trump refuses to listen to the people and issues executive orders opposed by the majority of US citizens, no doubt his opponents will seize the opportunity of his sinking popularity. And given all his opponents on both sides of the floor, it it not a stretch to think that the necessary impeachment votes could be garnered in the House and Senate.
If it is clear that it is the will of the people to have Trump removed from office then Congress will step up and use the power of impeachment. In the end, this is the only way to stop a President bent on abusing executive orders.