November 18, 2019

Is This a Constitutional Crisis?

“For the first time since President Richard Nixon refused to turn over the White House tapes, the United States is facing a genuine constitutional crisis.

To be sure, Donald Trump had already created a crisis in the presidency by abusing the power of his office to pressure foreign governments to investigate his political rival Joe Biden. But that act on its own didn’t count as a constitutional crisis, because the Constitution prescribes an answer to presidential abuse of office: impeachment.

Now that President Trump has announced — via a letter signed by Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel — that he will not cooperate in any way with the impeachment inquiry begun in the House of Representatives, we no longer have just a crisis of the presidency. We also have a breakdown in the fundamental structure of government under the Constitution. That counts as a constitutional crisis.

A constitutional crisis exists when two conditions hold. First, we face a situation where the Constitution does not provide a clear, definitive answer to a basic problem of governance. Second, the political actors whose conflict is creating the problem appear ready to press their competing courses of action to the limit.”

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