Call it The Obama Rule. When will our president do something he wants to do that the Constitution or morality prohibits? When he can get away with it.
President Barack Obama did not move forward with his unilateral action on immigration before the midterm elections, because he was worried he would pay too high a price. Additional congressional Democrats might have lost, and more Democrats would have blamed him for the losses.
He moved forward with his unconstitutional action after the elections because he calculated — correctly — that Republican congressional leaders would let him get away with it.
One of the most egregious examples of Obama's deciding he could get away with it came long before he was president and was noted in this column six years ago.
In 2001, when Obama served in the Illinois Senate, state Sen. Patrick O'Malley introduced a remarkably simple bill. It said a born baby would be treated under Illinois law as a "person," "human being," "child" and "individual."
The bill was needed because an Illinois hospital had been performing induced-labor abortions. In this procedure, a mother was drugged to induce labor. When her baby was born alive, the little boy or girl was left to die.
State Sen. O'Malley wanted to make sure all newborn boys and girls were treated equally — as persons.
Only one person — Obama — had the nerve to stand on the Illinois Senate floor and declare he did not want this.
In explaining his position, Obama initially noted that a committee had heard testimony that, as Obama put it, this "was a method of abortion, an induced abortion, where the fetus or child, as some might describe it, is still temporarily alive outside the womb."
But in his concluding argument, Obama insisted that a living baby born in this manner is actually a "pre-viable fetus."
"No. 1," said Obama, "whenever we define a pre-viable fetus as a person that is protected by the equal protection clause or the other elements of the Constitution, what we're really saying is, in fact, that they are persons that are entitled to the kinds of protections that would be provided to a child, a 9-month-old child that was delivered to term."
Obama went on to say that "the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child, and if this is a child, then this would be an anti-abortion statute."
As this column argued six years ago, there were multiple absurdities in Obama's language. Among them: A baby born alive is not a "fetus" — which, by definition, is pre-born. The term "temporarily alive" is redundant. Every mortal being is "temporarily alive."
But Obama also made one candid point. His strategic goal was to make certain a born baby who survived an abortion would not be recognized as "a person that is protected by the equal protection clause" of the Constitution.
He calculated he would get away with this, and he did. Seven years after fighting to deny abortion-surviving babies the right to life, Obama was elected president and took an oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
The Constitution, Obama knew then, requires that the president "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed" and vests the power to initiate war (as well as power over immigration) in Congress.
In 2007, when he was running for president, Obama told The Boston Globe: "The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." This is true.
But on March 19, 2011, Obama ordered the U.S. military into action in support of rebels seeking to overthrow the Libyan regime of Moammar Gadhafi. Congress had not authorized this action. Obama did not care. He got away with it — and helped turn Libya into a sanctuary for terrorists.
Just nine days after unilaterally involving the United States in Libya's civil war, Obama explained at a town hall forum sponsored by Univision at a Washington, D.C., high school that he did not have the power to unilaterally change immigration laws.
"With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that's just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed — and I know that everybody here at Bell is studying hard, so you know that we've got three branches of government," Obama said. "Congress passes the law. The executive branch's job is to enforce and implement those laws. And then the judiciary has to interpret the laws."
Last week, when the Republican-controlled House passed an omnibus spending bill permitting Obama to spend money to implement his unilateral action on immigration, Obama got away with doing what he personally told high-school students he had no power to do.
He acted not on the Constitution or the law but on The Obama Rule: Can I get away with it?
What else will Obama get away with as president? Americans will be learning that for the next two years.