For Barack Obama's 53rd birthday, Chris Matthews gave the gift of an incredibly stupid idea. In his closing "Let Me Finish" commentary for August 4, the MSNBC Hardball host urged the president to "get yourself a bright lawyer" and work up a lawsuit against Congress for "failure to provide services."
Yes, "normally that would strike me or you as absurd, but now that we're in the suing season, it deserves a tad of consideration," Matthews insisted, likening Congress to a DMV clerk who straight up refuses to do his job and grant you your license renewal after you've waited in line forever. You can read the transcript in full below the page break, followed by my analysis (MP3 audio here; video follows page break):
August 4, 2014
CHRIS MATTHEWS, host: Let me end tonight with an idea shared with me over the weekend that the president should be suing the Congress. Normally that would strike me or you as absurd, but now that we're in the suing season, it deserves a tad of consideration.
Think about what the president said in his press briefing on Friday. Think of all the ways the Congress has simply failed to perform its regular duties. Basically left its inbox stuffed with undone work from getting a budget passed, to approving executive appointments, even for nonpolitical ambassadors to important posts, Moscow, for example. Isn't there a place in the law here that might be as attorneys like to call it, actionable?
Isn't the U.S. Congress as the delinquent party here, again, to use an attorney's favorite word, exposed? Failure to provide services. That's the phrase. Failure to provide services is when a government official doesn't do what their job requires they do.
Suppose you wait in line to get your driver's license renewed. There you are standing at the DMV for hours and when you finally reach the front of the line, the person behind the counter says "I don't feel like it. I know you think you have a right to a renewed license, but I don't think I'll give it to you." Well, that would be failure to provide services, wouldn't it?
And every time this president sends a routine measure to the Congress or a routine appointment and has the Congress look at him and say, I don't feel like doing this, isn't that a failure to provide services? Isn't it? So there you go, Mr. President. Get yourself a bright lawyer and slap up the papers. If little ol' John Boehner can slap a suit at you, you can slap it back.
Not only is Matthews's comparison patently absurd, you may notice he has a factual error or two in his rant. The ambassador to a foreign capital is hardly a "nonpolitical" position, no matter what Matthews says, and it's particularly true of an appointment to a country which is a geopolitical rival like Russia -- not a thoroughly-trusted longstanding ally like Australia or Canada or the United Kingdom.
What's more, President Obama's nominee for ambassador to the Russian Federation, John Tefft WAS approved by the U.S. Senate Thursday night, shortly that chamber left for its August recess.
[As to the charge that Congress hasn't passed a budget, it is the president who is required by law to present Congress with a budget. The Constitution does not require either the president nor Congress to draft a budget blueprint, but federal law since the mid-1970s puts the ball in the president's court for getting the budget process started with a presidential budget proposal.]
The U.S. Constitution mandates that the president "shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed" (Article II, Section 3), while there is no constitutional requirement that the U.S. Congress vote on, much less pass, anything the president recommends or any appointee for office the president nominates. Faithful execution on the laws, of course, means faithfulness to the text of the legislation as it was passed by the representatives of "we the people," the U.S. Congress. One cannot faithfully execute a law when he is rewriting it on the fly through fiat. That is what lies at the heart of the threatened Boehner/House lawsuit against President Obama regarding his selective enforcement of ObamaCare.
To be sure, the Constitution requires of the president that he, "from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient," but you'll notice the operative word is "recommend." Congress is free to take those recommendations into consideration and act on them or to completely ignore them as it so chooses. There is no positive obligation on Congress's part to do anything the president requests.
Congress is a co-equal branch of the United States government. It is not a petulant clerk at a DMV window who refuses to give a taxpayer his driver's license because he want to go on his 10th smoke break of the day. Matthews certainly knows as much but chose tonight to make himself yet again an item worthy of his own "sideshow" segment.