Realistic Expectations Out of the Midterms

by Peter Spiro

Steve Clemons thinks that among other things we’ll see the CIA’s secret detention centers be de-funded “for sure” and that we’ll see a “modern version of public hangings” in the form of oversight hearings on Iraq-related issues. Roger similarly suggests below that there will be sharp confrontation on executive power.

I wonder. Executive power and detainee treatment were not themselves big issues in this election. Democrats will want to make themselves look responsible on security issues by way of teeing things up for 2008, and going after Guantanamo, surveillance practices and the like isn’t the way to do it. See this primer on “what to do if we win” from Suzanne Nossel over at Democracy Arsenal, which while focusing on Iraq has nothing to say about executive power. There are also unrelated institutional impediments to reviving Congress as a real check on executive power, as described in this useful piece by Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann in the latest Foreign Affairs, including the seemingly trivial matter of Congress’s two-day work week.

The election will surely mean, however, that we won’t be seeing any additional power-grabs from the Administration for yet more expansive presidential powers. What they’ve already got won’t necessarily be scaled back, but nothing’s going to be added to the president’s quiver over the next two years.

One other possible consequence, albeit one that will never be provable: the election could buck up the Supreme Court (and Anthony Kennedy in particular) as it faces the next round of detainee cases, post-MCA. The old adage about the Court following election returns is no less true because it’s cliche. The Court will be more likely to stand up to the White House even as the stakes are raised, as the election lowers the risk of institutional push-back from the Hill (or for that matter from the People).

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