To the Editor:
Yuval Levin has laid out concisely the important but often-ignored subject of congressional authority and the problems plaguing our legislative branch (“Congress Is Weak Because Its Members Want It to Be Weak,” July/August).
Although I agree almost entirely with Mr. Levin’s analysis, I disagree slightly with how he frames the matter. The article’s description of the current imbalance of power between the three branches lends credence to the idea that presidential overreach is not so much overstated as it is not fully realized. If the primary obstacle keeping the current president from acting with the same executive aggression as his predecessor is his own incompetence rather than the checks on power afforded by the constitution, then we’ve reached a critical point in keeping executive power in check. This is true even if abuses thus far have been somewhat limited.
The constitutional means by which Congress may wrest back power still exist, but there is little incentive to use them, and Congress is now characterized by widespread preference for partisan politics over actual governance. If something doesn’t change soon, there is little assurance that a president with a tangible agenda who is more attuned to the weakness of Congress and the power that affords him would be kept in check should more serious abuses occur.
South Padre Island, Texas
Yuval Levin writes:
I appreciate Erica Krzywonski’s thoughtful letter and certainly share her concern. In fact, it seems to me that the Obama era provided all the evidence we might need of the problem she describes. President Trump has not abused his power over Congress in the same way his predecessor did mostly because he seems incapable of the discipline and focus that would require. That is hardly reassuring, as she notes. The structural, systemic problem remains. This president probably would not (or would not be able to) stand in the way of a congressional attempt to address that problem, however, so that in the Trump era, such reforms are more imaginable than they might be later. That means the time for action is now. But the missing ingredient is the will among members of Congress to reassert the prerogatives of their institution. The first step toward helping Congress supply that missing ingredient is to see that this is the problem—that is, that Congress is weak because its members want it to be. That’s why my essay sought to shed light on this peculiar fact. But as Ms. Krzywonski wisely notes, this is only the first and easiest step in the effort to rescue the balance of powers required for our constitutional system to function.