For the past seven years, George W. Bush has expanded presidential power in ways that no one could have predicted when he took office.
He and Vice President Dick Cheney have worn their independence — from oversight by either lawmakers or judges — as a badge of honor, necessary to keep the nation safe from another terrorist attack and restore what they have regarded as a weakened presidency. But the cost has been a poisonous friction with Congress and a growing public perception that they simply weren’t interested in checks and balances.
Bush administration officials launched a secret warrantless surveillance program that operated outside the federal law that governs spying programs. They refused to ask Congress to authorize military commissions to try suspected terrorists, although the Supreme Court later forced them to do so. They declared that the president alone could decide how to detain suspected terrorists and which interrogation techniques to use.
They decided that the president alone could pull the United States out of treaties such as the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which Bush renounced in 2001. They maintained that administration officials don’t necessarily have to testify in an investigation just because Congress subpoenas them, a view that has driven Democrats in the House and Senate to launch contempt proceedings against officials who defied them in their probe of the firings of U.S. attorneys.
And they promoted an overall view of executive power that a president should be able to interpret the Constitution independently — and direct the activities of the executive branch without interference from Congress.