The Trump Cab­i­net: Bon­fire of the agen­cies

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Charles Krautham­mer E-mail Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group colum­nist Charles Krautham­mer at letters@ charleskrautham­

Democrats spent the first two decades of the postCold War era rather re­laxed about Rus­sian provo­ca­tions and re­van­chism. Pres­i­dent Obama fa­mously mocked Mitt Rom­ney in 2012 for sug­gest­ing that Rus­sia was our prin­ci­pal geopo­lit­i­cal ad­ver­sary. Yet to­day the Dems are in high dud­geon over the close­ness of sec­re­tary of state nom­i­nee, Rex Tiller­son, to Vladimir Putin.

Hypocrisy aside, it is true that, as head of Exxon Mo­bil, Tiller­son made ma­jor deals with Rus­sia, re­ceived Rus­sia’s Or­der of Friend­ship and op­posed U.S. sanc­tions. That’s trou­bling but not nec­es­sar­ily dis­qual­i­fy­ing. At the time, af­ter all, Tiller­son was act­ing as an agent of Exxon Mo­bil, whose in­ter­est it is to ex­tract oil and make money.

These in­ter­ests do not nec­es­sar­ily over­lap with those of the United States. The rel­e­vant ques­tion is whether and how Tiller­son dis­tin­guishes be­tween the two and whether as agent of the United States he would adopt a tougher Rus­sia pol­icy than he did as agent of Exxon Mo­bil.

We don’t know. We shall soon find out. That’s what con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings are for.

The left has been in equally high dud­geon that other Cab­i­net picks ap­pear not to share the mis­sion of the agency which they have been nom­i­nated to head. The hor­ror! As if these agency mis­sions are some­how di­vinely or­dained. Why, they aren’t even con­sti­tu­tion­ally or­dained. The De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, for ex­am­ple, was cre­ated by Pres­i­dent Carter in 1979 as a pay­off to the teach­ers unions for their po­lit­i­cal sup­port.

Now, teach­ers are won­der­ful. But teach­ers unions are there to pro­tect ben­e­fits and priv­i­leges, not nec­es­sar­ily to im­prove school­ing.

Con­ser­va­tives have the odd view that the pur­pose of school­ing — and there­fore of the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion — is to pro­vide stu­dents with the best pos­si­ble ed­u­ca­tion. Hence Trump’s nom­i­nee, Betsy DeVos, a long­time and pas­sion­ate pro­po­nent of school choice, un­der whom the de­part­ment will no longer be an arm of the teach­ers unions.

The most in­cen­di­ary nom­i­na­tion by far, how­ever, is Scott Pruitt to head the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency. As at­tor­ney gen­eral of Ok­la­homa, he has joined or led a se­ries of law­suits to cur­tail EPA power.

Pruitt has been deemed un­fit to serve be­cause he fails lib­er­al­ism’s mod­ern-day re­li­gious test: be­lief in an­thro­pogenic cli­mate change. They would love to turn his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing into a Scopes mon­key trial. Repub­li­cans should de­cline the in­vi­ta­tion. It doesn’t mat­ter whether the man be­lieves the moon is made of green cheese. The chal­lenges to EPA ac­tions are based not on me­te­o­rol­ogy or the­ol­ogy, but on the Con­sti­tu­tion. The is­sue is that the EPA has egre­giously ex­ceeded its author­ity and acted as a rogue agency uni­lat­er­ally cre­at­ing rules un­moored from leg­is­la­tion.

Pruitt’s is the most im­por­tant nom­i­na­tion be­cause it is a di­rect at­tack on the in­sid­i­ous growth of the ad­min­is­tra­tive state.

Obama’s Clean Power Plan es­sen­tially fed­er­al­izes power gen­er­a­tion and reg­u­la­tion, not co­in­ci­den­tally killing coal along the way. This is the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s end run around Congress’ re­jec­tion of Obama’s pro­posed 2009-10 cap-and-trade leg­is­la­tion. And that was a Demo­cratic Congress, mind you.

Pruitt’s nom­i­na­tion is a dra­matic test of the propo­si­tion that agen­cies ad­min­is­ter the law, they don’t cre­ate it. That the leg­isla­tive power re­sides ex­clu­sively with Congress and not with a metas­ta­siz­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive bu­reau­cracy.

For some, this re­asser­tion of ba­sic con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism seems ex­treme. If so, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has only it­self to blame. Such are the wages of eight years of lib­eral over­reach. Some leg­is­la­tion, like Oba­macare, will be re­pealed. Some ex­ec­u­tive or­ders will be can­celed. But most im­por­tant will be the bon­fire of the agen­cies. We may soon be se­cure not just in our pud­dles but our ponds.

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