By Dana Milbank
WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Cruz, in a speech to fellow conservatives at the Federalist Society last week, provided detailed evidence of what the right calls the “lawlessness” of the Obama administration.
The Texas Republican, in his latest McCarthyesque flourish, said he had a list of “76 instances of lawlessness and other abuses of power.”
To his credit, Cruz made his list public. But perhaps he shouldn’t have. An examination of the accusations reveals less about the lawlessness of the accused than about the recklessness of the accuser.
Cruz was particularly agitated about President Obama’s use of signing statements, executive orders, recess appointments and unconfirmed “czars” — omitting the salient detail that this president has used all four less than George W. Bush, for whom Cruz worked as a campaign adviser and administration official.
Beyond such perennial check-and-balance disputes, Cruz’s list was a recitation of policy grievances (Cruz, if you haven’t heard, doesn’t like Obamacare very much, nor the president’s immigration policy). These were interspersed with some whoppers that the senator, a former Texas solicitor general, couldn’t have researched thoroughly.
Consider item No. 2 in the “Other Abuses of Power” section: “Backed release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi.” This does sound bad — and strange, given that Obama had publicly said he was “angry” about the release, which was “a bad decision.”
The footnote on Cruz’s allegation is to an article in The Australian newspaper, a curious source. I looked up the article, and it states that “the U.S. wanted Megrahi to remain imprisoned in view of the nature of the crime.”
Cruz, in a preamble to his accusations, writes piously of “the president’s persistent pattern of lawlessness, his willingness to disregard the written law and instead enforce his own policies via executive fiat.”
The evidence? The first item in the first category (“Governing By Executive Fiat”): “Disregarded 1996 welfare reform law in granting broad work waivers for work requirements of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.”
Such waivers were at the heart of welfare reform, which I covered. Ron Haskins, who drafted the law, told The Washington Post that waivers made the law possible by giving states freedom to experiment.
A few lines down, Cruz alleges that Obama “extended federal marriage benefits by recognizing, under federal law, same-sex marriages … even if the couple is living in a state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.”
Cruz’s footnote for this allegation is to a February news article, which notes that the administration’s “changes were set in motion last year when the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional to refuse federal benefits to married same-sex couples.” So Obama is being “lawless” by obeying a Supreme Court ruling?
Cruz alleges that the administration “ordered Boeing to fire 1,000 employees in South Carolina and shut down a new factory because it was non-union.” In fact, Obama’s National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint — and any order would have been up to a judge, as the law requires. In the end, Boeing and the union struck a deal, and the complaint was dropped.
Cruz must have found some of his allegations too good to check — such as the charge that Obama “spent $205,075 in ‘stimulus’ funds to relocate a shrub that sells for $16.” Actually, the removal of the plant (which had been believed to be extinct in the wild) was part of a massive road project run by California, not the federal government. Like thousands of other projects, it got stimulus dollars — less than 10 percent of its total funding.
No item was too small to escape Cruz’s notice. Obama “shut down an Amish farm for selling fresh unpasteurized milk across state lines,” he alleges. Actually, the Food and Drug Administration was acting under the authority of a federal court order — not exactly lawlessness.
There are, among the 76, legitimate grievances about expanded surveillance at the National Security Agency and about efforts to get reporters’ phone records. But it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the alleged abuse and lawlessness are actually differences of politics and policy.
Obama “shut down the Amber Alert website, while keeping up Let’s Move website, during the partial government shutdown,” writes Cruz — who almost single-handedly caused the shutdown.
“Actively aided in George Zimmerman protests,” Cruz complains.
“Canceled all White House tours after sequestration … even though President Obama had spent more than $1 million in tax money to golf with Tiger Woods.”
Cruz disagrees with Obama on just about everything. But this doesn’t make Obama a criminal.
Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist.