In May 2017, the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, Rod Rosenstein, appointed Robert S. Mueller III to look into whether or not President Donald J. Trump’s staff had worked with people in Russia during the presidential campaign in 2015 and 2016. As special counsel, Mueller was given the job of determining whether they had tried to influence the outcome of the election. Doing so would break US laws.
Rosenstein took this action for a number of reasons. In particular, he learned that some of Trump’s aides began meeting with Russians several months after he announced he was running for president in 2015. In addition, some of Trump’s foreign policy staffers knew that Russians had hacked into the email server of his opponent, Hillary Clinton, and then made her emails public. In numerous tweets and speeches, however, the president has steadfastly denied that his campaign colluded with Russia to help him win the election.
To find out whether or not US election laws were broken, Mueller has been interviewing Trump’s associates. Some of them have provided information about meetings they had with Russians, and the president has strongly criticized these staffers. He even fired the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James B. Comey, for refusing to promise to protect him during Mueller’s probes. As a result, Mueller is also looking into whether Trump has tried to influence or derail his work as special counsel. If the president did so, that could mean he is guilty of obstructing justice. Trump has denied this charge also.
Several times during the spring of 2018, President Trump mentioned the possibility that he might fire both Rosenstein and Mueller, possibly as an effort to end the special counsel’s investigations. In one of our previous blogs, “You’re Fired!” “Oh, No, I’m Not,” we pointed out that the president has the right to fire just about anyone who works in the executive branch of the federal government. Both Republicans and Democrats, however, want Mueller to continue his work. Two senators from each party joined together and introduced a bill into Congress that would protect him from being let go. The legislation says that a special counsel can be dismissed only for “good cause” and only by a senior official in the Justice Department. In addition, the special counsel could have the firing reviewed by a judge.
There are several reasons this bill might not pass. The major reason relates to a fault line in the Constitution. Article I, Section 7 gives the president the power to veto any legislation passed by Congress. To overcome a veto, two-thirds of the members of both houses must vote to do so. That’s not two-thirds of Congress. That’s two-thirds of the House of Representatives—288 people—and two-thirds of the Senate—or, 67 people. It’s so hard to get a super-majority of both houses to agree on just about anything that, over the past two hundred and twenty-five years, presidents have succeeded in vetoing legislation they don’t like 95 percent of the time.
Americans say that we have a bicameral system, consisting of two houses of Congress, to pass bills. Because of the president’s ability to veto legislation, however, some people argue that we actually have a tricameral system—two houses to pass bills and one person to keep them from becoming law.
We also refer to our system of government as one of checks and balances. But, the veto gives the president a very powerful check on Congress. Even if a hefty majority of both the House and the Senate, with the support of the public, want a law that the president does not, they won’t get it without support from two-thirds of both houses.
No one knows whether a majority of senators and representatives want to pass a bill to protect the special counsel from being fired by the president. It is unlikely that two-thirds of them do. So, many of them argue that there’s no reason to bring the bill up for a vote. As Republican Senator Mitch McConnell pointed out, “Even if we pass it, why would he [Trump] sign it?”
Presidential vetoes can be essential if Congress passes crazy legislation. Or, they can be a serious problem if the president becomes overly powerful. What do you think? Should the president be able to veto acts of Congress? If so, should Congress need to amass a super-majority to overcome a veto?