Doddering John McCain in one of his ever frequent truculent moods stated the other day that President Trump needs to realize that the Senate are not his subordinates. Well, thank you, Cicero. Whom does he think he’s kidding? Since 1933, the U.S. Congress has routinely given away its authority to assorted boards, regulatory agencies and bureaus. President Obama made this more efficient by skipping the congressional giveaway step. Why wait for a slow acting Congress? The people cannot wait, so just issue a decree. Senators like McCain may complain that Obamacare waivers, open borders, et alia are illegal presidential assumptions of power, but they don’t do much about it. Until when Trump calls their bluff by canceling an illegal action like DACA, then senators call foul and decry the damage the undoing of the thing they opposed will do. So much for defending their senatorial prerogatives. If this doesn’t make congressional action subordinate to presidential authority, I don’t know what does.
In the days of the Roman Republic, the Senate was the supreme law making body. The Assembly of plebeians could meet and propose legislation and their tribune could champion it, but all action had to be approved by the Senate. If the tribune got out of line, id est, became too populist, his broken body could end up in the Tiber. They don’t yet actually throw House speakers into the Potomac but like tribunes, they don’t last long. As the Senate reminds us ad nauseam, all legislative action must end up with them in what they proudly call “the world’s greatest deliberative body”. This phrase becomes laughable once you realize the Senate deliberates for decades. In Rome, one had to be a patrician to serve in the Senate. In America’s Senate, it’s been inverted. One doesn’t have to be a patrician to be elected to the Senate (though it doesn’t hurt); however, if you stay around long enough, you become a patrician for life. Today’s senators don’t get a white toga with crimson piping but they get the modern day equivalents: feted at parties, rolled out to comment on network news, holding appointees hostage, pontificating in feckless hearings, criticizing the president and, of course, always aspiring to replace him. Being a senator is now an end in itself. Enacting legislation is not required, and is strictly secondary.
As in the last days of the Roman Republic, this state of affairs cannot be sustained. Today it is called “gridlock”. Rome had a mechanism for it. They simply made their consuls dictator for a year or two. It was a dangerous thing to do, but it beat the alternative. Obama updated the concept by declaring that he had a pen. With it, he signed his unconstitutional dictates. He didn’t bother to get congressional authority not just because they would still be debating it but because there isn’t any constitutional way to do it. Rome improvised too with a couple of extraconstitutional triumvirates and finally settled on a princeps to be consul for life. This Caesar then relieved the Senate of any further responsibility. Thus they could all pretend the Republic still existed and the Senate could keep all the perks they relished. Sound familiar? And as a bonus, a senator might always hope to be the second consul. He could open festivals, cut ribbons, etc. in that superfluous role unless, of course, the emperor preferred to appoint his horse.
But Senator McCain can be of good cheer in MMXVII. If one cannot be a horse, at least one can be a horse’s ass.