Today’s New York Times reports that another member of Congress, Katie Porter (D-CA), has called for impeachment, citing the “constitutional crisis” provoked by President Donald Trump. According to Porter, echoing statements made by Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and other members of Congress, we have a crisis because of Trump’s misconduct, especially his failure to comply with congressional requests for documents and other information.
At some point, Trump’s disregard of the law may amount to a constitutional crisis, but we’re not there yet. In fact, with respect to the requests for information, the President is acting in many ways as the Founding Fathers expected.
They recognized that government officials will try to expand their power, so the Framers gave us our system of separated powers with its checks and balances. When one branch exercises its powers aggressively, the other branches are supposed to push back to ensure that no branch exceeds its authority.
In this case, congressional committees have cast wide nets in their investigations, and it is appropriate for Trump to ensure that they don’t go too far in their demands. Ultimately, after some give and take on both sides, possibly with judicial intervention, Congress and the White House will likely reach reasonable accommodations. Indeed, an agreement was reached last week between the Justice Department and the House Judiciary Committee to give Congress access to evidence collected during the Mueller investigation, and another agreement was reached with Donald Trump, Jr. to testify in a closed hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
What would make for a constitutional crisis? If a court ordered President Trump to disclose information, and he refused to obey, that’s the kind of defiance that would signal a breakdown of our constitutional order.
Ironically, most of what Trump has done in disregard of the Framers’ constitutional design has been the result of past Congress’ delegating much of their legislative power to the executive branch. When the President declared his faux-emergency at the Mexican border, he was doing so under emergency powers granted by Congress. Similarly, his Muslim travel ban comported with immigration authority conferred on the White House by Congress. What Trump has exposed is the extent to which Congress has compromised our system of checks and balances by abdicating its responsibilities for the legislative power.