Wednesday, Feb 25, 2009
Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the longest serving Democratic senator, is criticizing President Obama’s appointment of White House “czars” to oversee federal policy, saying these executive positions amount to a power grab by the executive branch.
In a letter to Obama on Wednesday, Byrd complained about Obama’s decision to create White House offices on health reform, urban affairs policy, and energy and climate change. Byrd said such positions “can threaten the Constitutional system of checks and balances. At the worst, White House staff have taken direction and control of programmatic areas that are the statutory responsibility of Senate-confirmed officials.”
While it’s rare for Byrd to criticize a president in his own party, Byrd is a stern constitutional scholar who has always stood up for the legislative branch in its role in checking the power of the White House. Byrd no longer holds the powerful Appropriations chairmanship, so his criticism does not carry as much weight these days. Byrd repeatedly clashed with the Bush administration over executive power, and it appears that he’s not limiting his criticism to Republican administrations/.
Byrd also wants Obama to limit claims of executive privilege while also ensuring that thes White House czars don’t have authority over Cabinet officers confirmed by the Senate.
“As presidential assistants and advisers, these White House staffers are not accountable for their actions to the Congress, to cabinet officials, and to virtually anyone but the president,” Byrd wrote. “They rarely testify before congressional committees, and often shield the information and decision-making process behind the assertion of executive privilege. In too many instances, White House staff have been allowed to inhibit openness and transparency, and reduce accountability.”