President Donald Trump signed missives of dubious validity over the...

President Donald Trump signed missives of dubious validity over the weekend at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. Credit: AP/Susan Walsh

Guests who gathered in a room at President Donald Trump's private golf club in New Jersey got to see fake governance up close. They applauded their host after he signed pieces of paper of dubious legal value. The papers that he called "executive actions" may well come to symbolize Trump's inaction.

After an impeachment, multiple scandals and a total lack of negotiation by the White House, Democrats and commentators still give Trump a certain benefit of the doubt when it comes to doing the basics of his job. These critics said the three memos and one executive order that Trump signed over the weekend would fail to give the pandemic-strapped American people enough help.

This is like raising the old complaint that the food is lousy and the portions are too small — when, in fact, the food may not even be there.

The Constitution gives Congress key fiscal and taxing powers. It's that simple. Senate Republicans have refused to go along with Trump's demand that any relief measure they negotiate with House Democrats and send him include a payroll tax deferral. 

An executive cannot serve as his own legislature, at least not in America. That doesn't keep the White House from pretending otherwise by ordering this tax deferral on its own.

On July 10, the president promised action in the subsequent four weeks on immigration. “We're working out the legal complexities right now, but I'm going to be signing a very major immigration bill as an executive order," Trump said. 

A "bill as an executive order?" No, bills and executive orders and memos are very different things. But Trump, uncorrected, has conflated them more than once. This blurring feeds the illusion of presidential action.

Neither a bill nor an executive order on immigration have emerged.

Trump apologists make a thin argument that he is prodding Congress into a coronavirus relief deal by threatening to legally usurp its power. Consider Trump's tweet Monday: "So now Schumer and Pelosi want to meet to make a deal. Amazing how it all works, isn’t it. Where have they been for the last 4 weeks when they were “hard-liners?” 

But the happy notion that he is getting foes to "come around" proved baseless. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) easily denied the scenario. "Fables from Donald Trump. Fables. That's what he seems to specialize in. I didn't call him. Speaker Pelosi didn't call him," Schumer said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

The real-life logjam will break if and when elected lawmakers on Capitol Hill negotiate a compromise between the Democrats' $3 trillion proposal and a cheaper Republican alternative. For now, the president is already getting much of what he wants. That is, headlines that buttress his relevance.

"Trump extends unemployment benefits, defers payroll tax," declared the Market Watch website — as if those steps actually are taking effect. "The president’s moves on jobless assistance, payroll taxes, evictions and student loans come during an impasse in bipartisan talks," the Wall Street Journal stated with measured credulity. "Enhanced unemployment would continue at $400 per week under new Trump executive order," said CNBC.

Peter Navarro, the presidential trade adviser, offered this pseudo-constitutional chatter: "The Lord and the Founding Fathers created executive orders because of partisan bickering and divided government."

Over the weekend Trump was asked if he'd step into the relevant negotiations, perhaps meeting with Pelosi. "Well, I’ve been involved personally," he claimed, "and you know, through my representatives, who are wonderful. And we have additional people, too. But I’m involved very — you know, look, I’ve been on the phone a lot over the last three or four days. And I think it actually works better if we do it the way we’re doing it."

Sen. Ben Sasse offered a more cogent analysis of the president's weekend signings. "Then pen-and-phone theory of executive lawmaking is unconstitutional slop,' Sasse (R-Nebraska) said on Saturday. "President Trump does not have the power to unilaterally rewrite the payroll tax law. Under the Constitution, that power belongs to the American people acting through their members of Congress."


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