Sunday, December 06, 2009

More on Desiree Rogers and congressional oversight

Sandy Levinson

The New York Times has an interesting story today on the White House Social Secretary, Desiree Rogers. At the very least, I am persuaded that she is worth every penny (and probably much more) of the $113,000 that she receives in her position. Indeed, I have second thoughts about having emphasized her salary in my previous posting, because my view is that almost all federal officials, beginning with civil servants and going through the Cabinet, are significantly underpaid. I have no doubt that she could earn far more doing similar things in the private sector. The story describes someone who is extremely competent, even if she seems to have been somewhat unwise in becoming too much of a public fashion plate. But she seems to be quite imaginative in her conception of the kinds of social activities the White House should engage in.

All of this, however, is really beside the point to the Administration's invocation of a constitutional privilege to prevent her testifying before the House committee looking into the fiasco at the State Dinner for the Indian President. I continue to believe that there is no good reason to prevent her testifying. Perhaps there is good reason to limit oversight of the National Security Advisor, but I do think the rebuttable presumption should be that Congress can require the testimony of any member of the executive branch who receives a salary from the national government unless the official in question can be compared, say, to a judge's law clerk. This would mean, at the very least, that the President would have to put in writing the reasons (beyond simply citing the vague principle of "separation of powers") for preventing the appearance. I presume that what's ultimately at stake is whether, e.g., Larry Summers can be required to testify in the way that Ben Bernanke and Timothy Geithner most definitely can. To this extent, Ms. Rogers may simply be a placeholder, for all sides, for a much more profound debate about whether the Madisonian promise institutional oversight will survive the ever greater number of staff and "czars" that distinguish contemporary presidencies.

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