Yes, He Can: Twenty Ways Obama Can Use Executive Power to Push a Progressive Agenda
Rewrite FBI Guidelines for Spying on Americans
In 2009, The New York Times revealed new post-9/11 powers bestowed on the FBI that lowered the bar for targeting certain communities as possible terrorists. “One section lays out a low threshold to start investigating a person or group as a potential security threat,” the paper reported. “Another allows agents to use ethnicity or religion as a factor—as long as it is not the only one—when selecting subjects for scrutiny.” The result, as Center for Constitutional Rights president emeritus Michael Ratner points out, has been to criminalize communities and entrap individuals simply because of their religion, ethnicity or political activities. “Obama could protect our right to dissent and protest by ordering the FBI to curb surveillance and entrapment of activists and others not engaging in criminal activity.”
In his inaugural speech, the president vowed to engage with other countries so as to "lift suspicion and fear." He should reach out to forge a more sane and sensible relationship with Cuba.
Nation readers provided good ideas—and a bit of wariness—when asked how Obamas should use his presidential authority.
Release the Legal Memos on Targeted Killings
In this era of the so-called “disposition matrix,” Obama is not likely to reverse the dangerous course he has taken on targeted killings. But at the very least, he must stop ignoring the transparency pledge he made upon taking office in 2009, to “hold myself as president to a new standard of openness.” As Vicki Divoll, former deputy legal adviser to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, wrote in an impassioned op-ed for The New York Times, Obama “has refused to tell Congress or the American people why he believes the Constitution gives, or fails to deny, him the authority to secretly target and kill American citizens who he suspects are involved in terrorist activities overseas. So far he has killed three that we know of.” The president should release the secret memos that outline his administration’s rationale for targeted killings.
When a newly re-elected President Obama thanked Americans for voting him back into office, he acknowledged that some had “waited in line for a very long time” to do so. “By the way,” he added, in an unscripted aside, “we have to fix that.” Although the states are in charge of administering their own voting practices, the Brennan Center for Justice has identified one way the president can unilaterally move to modernize voting methods across the country. “Several states have requested agreements to designate certain federal agencies as voter registration agencies, meaning that registration materials should be offered to all citizens when they directly interact with those agencies,” explains Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel at the Brennan Center’s Washington office. “Where it is within his authority, we would like to see the president direct agencies to accept these designations. This will encourage other states to make additional designation requests and should significantly increase registration rates among those directly served by the agencies.”
Money in Politics
Appoint New Federal Election Commissioners
“The FEC is the most dysfunctional agency in government, thanks to partisan deadlock,” says Robert Weissman of Public Citizen. “Five of the six members are serving past their terms—including the former chair, who has announced she will step down February 1—because the president has not made new appointments.” It’s past time for Obama to appoint new commissioners to better equip this critical agency to do its job.
Make Government Contractors Reveal Political Donations
Congress has repeatedly failed to pass the DISCLOSE (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections) Act. But the president could address this by requiring federal contractors to open the books on their campaign spending. As Public Citizen has pointed out, “among the 50 largest contractors, nearly all contractor political spending was disclosed to the public until 2010, when [an FEC] loophole and a Supreme Court decision combined to permit unlimited secret spending in elections.” In the post–Citizens United era, the president should take all actions necessary to rein in such secretive, uncontrolled spending.