I’ve never played golf (other than the miniature kind). I also never got into the perennial exercise of bashing each sitting President for playing golf — with some folks obsessively counting the number rounds, days and courses played. That all seemed petty and silly to me.
But I am struck that President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who was once part of Ken Starr’s team, has since written extensively that he does not believe that sitting Presidents should be burdened and distracted by lawsuits, criminal investigations and other legal process. As usefully summarized here:
[W]hile it is true that Kavanaugh supports some special counsel investigations, he would very specifically and most profoundly exempt the president from them. Indeed, as we describe more fully below, Kavanaugh would go much further in exempting the president not only from prosecution and indictment, but also from Department of Justice investigations while in office — and not only investigation, but also depositions or questioning in civil litigation or criminal investigations. Under Kavanaugh’s proposal for a revamped prosecutorial structure, the president could nominate a special prosecutor to investigate alleged wrongdoing in the executive branch, but the president could never be one of the investigation’s targets.
We now know why Kavanaugh was nominated. But how do he and other Republicans justify this lawless result? Judge Kavanaugh explains that Presidents are just too damn busy:
First, my chief takeaway from working in the [George W. Bush] White House for five-and-a-half years—and particularly from my nearly three years of work as Staff Secretary, when I was fortunate to travel the country and the world with President Bush—is that the job of President is far more difficult than any other civilian position in government. It frankly makes being a member of Congress or the judiciary look rather easy by comparison. The decisions a President must make are hard and often life-or- death, the pressure is relentless, the problems arise from all directions, the criticism is unremitting and personal, and at the end of the day only one person is responsible . . . . It is true that presidents carve out occasional free time to exercise or read or attend social events. But don’t be fooled. The job and the pressure never stop.
OK. This is where the golf play . . . or the visits to Mar-A-lago, to Crawford ranch, Kennebunkport and Camp David, or Martha’s Vineyard, and everything else . . . really do become relevant. And if you don’t believe that is enough, just try to calculate the amount of time a President spends traveling, fund-raising and dining with big donors. Indeed, why are Presidents suddenly so free to campaign for re-election?
The truth is that we over-romanticize and exaggerate the pressures and time constraints imposed by the presidency. Yes, it is a very important, sometimes all-consuming job. But there is nothing in the job of being President that would allow any rational thinker to believe that Presidents should be above the law and ordinary judicial process, including especially as to legal proceedings concerning their own potential criminal conduct. That is the talk of autocrats, their friends and lazy apologists.
Don’t believe me? Well consider this reporting of President Ronald Reagan’s burdens by Jane Mayer in her great book Landslide:
But more chilling than anything else was the portrait these aides drew of the president they served . . . [T]hey told stories about how inattentive and inept [President Reagan] was. He was lazy; he wasn’t interested in the job. They said he wouldn't read the papers they gave him — even short position papers and documents. They said he wouldn’t come over to work — all he wanted to do was to watch movies and television at the residence.
President Trump’s daily schedule is similarly arduous:
President Trump is starting his official day much later than he did in the early days of his presidency, often around 11am, and holding far fewer meetings, according to copies of his private schedule shown to Axios. This is largely to meet Trump’s demands for more “Executive Time,” which almost always means TV and Twitter time alone in the residence, officials tell us . . . .
Trump's days in the Oval Office are relatively short – from around 11am to 6pm, then he's back to the residence. During that time he usually has a meeting or two, but spends a good deal of time making phone calls and watching cable news in the dining room adjoining the Oval. Then he's back to the residence for more phone calls and more TV.
I don’t write the above (merely) for fun. The movement to shield Presidents from legal accountability led by nominee Kavanaugh and others is deadly serious. With President Trump’s looming criminal investigation, Judge Kavanugh and other Republican justices will have the opportunity to reverse prior precedent, shield presidents from legal scrutiny and perhaps allow President Trump to avoid subpoenaed testimony in the Russian election interference investigation.
At core, the only supporting argument these obstructionists and enablers make is that the President — any President — is just too busy and important to be held accountable. But the argument is transparent nonsense.
Republicans have surrendered their Congressional oversight of Republican presidents. They are now seeking to eliminate independent investigations by the judiciary and Justice Department.
The stakes are real, and the Republican arguments should be laughed out of court. And that is why the confirmation of sycophants*/ like Kavanaugh to the highest court in the land is so damaging.
*/ If you’d like quick evidence of Kavanaugh sycophancy, just watch the beauty of his first 30 seconds:
“Mr. President, thank you. Throughout this process, I have witnessed first hand your appreciation for the vital role of the American judiciary. No President has ever consulted more widely, or talked with more people from more backgrounds, to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination. Mr. President, I am grateful to you, and humbled by your confidence in me.”
As one commentator explained, “[t]he net effect was that some of Kavanaugh’s words were just kind of gross to hear.”