According to Vox.com, Republican senator and presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham went to the “politics and pies” forum in Concord, New Hampshire recently, where he announced that if he is elected president in 2016, his first act would be to deploy the military in Washington to force Congress to reverse cuts to the defense and intelligence budgets.
That may go over well with the “folksy” crowd, but according to Vox.com, it doesn’t sound legal.
Here are Graham’s words:
“And here’s the first thing I would do if I were president of the United States. I wouldn’t let Congress leave town until we fix this. I would literally use the military to keep them in if I had to. We’re not leaving town until we restore these defense cuts. We are not leaving town until we restore the intel cuts.”
Graham would use the military to force members of Congress to not just vote on the bill, but to pass it – in other words, until the defense and intel cuts are restored.
Graham didn’t say “until I get an up-or-down vote on restoring defense cuts.” He said “until we restore these defense cuts.”
So Graham is proposing that his first act as president would be to use the military to force the legislative branch to pass his agenda.
If taken literally, Graham is basically announcing his plan to stage some sort of coup. He is saying that if he gains control of the executive branch, he will use his authority as commander in chief to overcome the separation of powers and force the legislative branch to do his bidding, instead of allowing it to act as an independent branch of the government.
Vox.com states that political scientists often refer to that type of action as a “self-coup,” a situation in which a legitimate leader uses the military or other armed force to unlawfully sieze more power than is permitted under the constitution of the country in question.
Usually that’s a seizure of power and a shutdown of the legislature, according to Vox.com. What Graham is proposing is a milder version.
Vox states that he may have been joking, but the recording sounded serious.
If he was being serious, the proposal is different than what is actually legal — such as, say, the Senate leadership using the Capitol police or sergeant-at-arms to ensure that the Senate has a quorum.
That happened in 1988, when Democratic leadership had the Capitol police carry Republican Senator from Oregon Bob Packwood into the Senate chamber to ensure a quorum.
Harry Reid threatened to use similar methods more recently when he was Senate majority leader.
But what the Senate did in 1988 was compel senators’ presence, not compel them to vote a certain way. Graham is talking about forcing legislators to vote a certain way.
What happened to Packwood was permitted by the Senate rules, which say that “a majority of the Senators present may direct the Sergeant at Arms to request, and, when necessary, to compel the attendance of the absent Senators” to reach a quorum.
And it was the Senate policing itself, and thus did not violate the separation of powers.
What Lindsey Graham is proposing is to physically force members of Congress to vote how he commands.
His plan violates constitutional separation of powers in just about the most extreme way imaginable, according to Vox.com. He would be forcing the executive branch’s will on the legislature.
“And it is a pretty safe bet that Senate rules do not grant the president authority to have the 101st Airborne Division occupy the Capitol until Congress votes the way he wants,” states Vox.com.
Graham’s proposal is so astonishing that it’s pretty much impossible to believe that’s what he really meant. It is hard to believe he is a mainstream politician and an attorney who once served as an Air Force JAG.
You can listen to the recording here: