In 2012, when a bartender at a Mitt Romney fundraiser in Boca Raton secretly recorded the candidate’s comments, the story exploded. The Republican had said that “47 percent” of the voters were dependent on government and thought of themselves as “victims.” It cemented the image of Romney as a plutocrat with little concern for average people, and when Mother Jones published a transcript, it helped seal his doom as a candidate.
In 2008, candidate Barack Obama confided to Democratic donors in San Francisco that he thought rural Pennsylvanians “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them” as a way to cope with a changing world. That caused a huge kerfuffle, and while it didn’t cost Obama the election, it haunted him enough that he included a mea culpa about the episode in his recent memoir.
Secret recordings can be landmines.
This week, we got a glimpse of a meeting between president-elect Joe Biden and civil rights leaders. The Intercept reports that in a Tuesday meeting, the leaders were urging the incoming president to issue a slew of executive orders. Some in the Democratic party—having not learned the lessons of recent administrations who abused executive orders—stood ready to abuse presidential power.
On November 11, Senator Elizabeth Warren published an op-ed suggesting that the new administration shouldn’t hesitate to rule by decree. Using “existing legal authority” the new administration could “cancel billions of dollars” in student debt, raise the minimum wage, lower drug prices, and much more.
During the primaries, a number of Democratic candidates had pledged to use executive orders for gun control, climate policy, and other matters. Kamala Harris was a particular fan of unchecked presidential diktat.
Biden, we’ve been told, is a stalking horse for the far left of the party. Or, if not that, then a weak weed who will be pressured by the left of the party to do its bidding. Nothing he has done in his whole career, during the long campaign of 2020, or since his victory, has suggested that. So what did he say to civil rights leaders?
He said that where the law gives him authority to act via executive order, he won’t hesitate to do so. BUT,
what I’m not going to do is I’m not going to do what used to—Vanita [Gupta], you probably used to get angry with me during the debates, when you’d have some of the people you were supporting saying, ‘On Day 1, I’m gonna have an executive order to do this!’ Not within the constitutional authority. I am not going to violate the Constitution. Executive authority that my progressive friends talk about is way beyond the bounds.
“There is a Constitution,” he repeated. And he continued:
It’s our only hope. Our only hope and the way to deal with it is, where I have executive authority, I will use it to undo every single damn thing this guy has done by executive authority, but I’m not going to exercise executive authority where it’s a question, where I can come along and say, ‘I can do away with assault weapons.’ There’s no executive authority to do away that. And no one has fought harder to get rid of assault weapons than me, me, but you can’t do it by executive order. We do that, next guy comes along and says, Well, guess what? By executive order, I guess everybody can have machine guns again. So we gotta be careful.
It’s going to take some getting used to, having a president who respects the limits of his own power.
Biden said something else that contradicts the image some project of the hapless tool of the left. Some in the meeting apparently criticized his choice of Tom Vilsack for Agriculture secretary because Vilsack was involved in an unfortunate incident during the Obama years involving Shirley Sherrod. Conversation then turned to police reform. Biden promised that reform would be a high priority for his administration but added that “I also don’t think we should get too far ahead ourselves on dealing with police reform…” Echoing the sentiments of Jim Clyburn and Obama, Biden said that Republicans
beat the living hell out of us across the country, saying that we’re talking about defunding the police. We’re not. We’re talking about holding them accountable. We’re talking about giving them money to do the right things. We’re talking about putting more psychologists and psychiatrists on the telephones when the 911 calls through. We’re talking about spending money to enable them to do their jobs better, not with more force, with less force and more understanding.
Maybe Biden should make a habit of releasing secret tapes of his comments.