A Civics Lesson for Our Speaker

So Nancy Pelosi recently had this to say:

When Pelosi was asked whether she considers herself equal to Trump, she said, “The Constitution does,” The New York Times reported.

Pelosi’s position as Speaker makes her the second in line for the presidency should something happen to Trump, after Vice President Pence, according to the Constitution.

There are two ways to intepret Pelosi’s comment, and neither one is flattering regarding her understanding of the constitution. The more charitable interpretation is that she means the legislative branch is co-equal to the executive. In this case, she would be underestimating her own branch’s standing. Jay Cost and Luke Thompson have a done a fantastic job on their Constitutionally Speaking podcast to debunk this long-held cliche about “co-equal” branches. If you have spent any time examining the political thought of the Framers, you’d immediately be disabused of the notion that they thought the three branches were equal. The legislative branch, as the branch representing the people, was held to be the superior branch. One can look at the powers delegated to each branch and recognize the implicit belief in legislative superiority. What the constitution expounded was not “separate but equal,” but rather the idea that each branch had defined roles, with some amount of intermingling powers as a “check” on those powers. But the idea they were equal in weight is not supported by a reading of the constitution or an understanding of the history.

If Pelosi is instead asserting that her position is equal to the presidency itself, well that’s just absurd on its face. That the Speaker comes second in the line of succession is proof not of its equality, but of its inferiority to the presidency. The Speakership is barely mentioned in the constitution other than to define how the Speaker is chosen. The Speaker of the House’s powers are largely a creation of House rules, not of the constitution itself. The Speaker cannot issue executive orders, appoint constitutional officers, make war, or any of the other myriad constitutionally defined powers of the executive. While Congress as a whole may be superior to the Executive, the Speaker of the House alone is not even remotely within the president’s orbit in terms of actual power.

We’re already off to a wonderful start in Nancy Part II.

 

 

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