Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A "Government of National Unity"?

Mark Tushnet

Ben Wittes proposes that Hillary Clinton, once elected, take the initiative in forming a government of national unity by appointing a non-trivial number of traditional Republicans to important positions in her administration. He notes in passing that such governments are characteristic of parliamentary, not presidential, systems, but that observation poses greater difficulties for his proposal than he acknowledges. In a separation-of-powers system, a true government of national unity would involve the presidency and the House and Senate.

How might that happen? Well, in part by what I called gestures of reconciliation by Republicans in the Senate and the House. As to the Senate: Assume, as I do, that a President-elect Clinton sends a clear signal that she's OK with Merrick Garland as a Supreme Court nominee. Senate Republicans could move forward with his confirmation immediately after receiving that signal, by scheduling a pro forma hearing and an immediate vote on the nomination. I suspect that there's more that they could -- and should -- do to signal good faith in pursuing a government of national unity.

As to the House: I've suggested the possibility that there might be cross-party voting for the Speaker of the House -- either (I assume) Paul Ryan soliciting votes from Democrats by proposing a formal power-sharing arrangement, knowing that he would lose votes from Republicans (and completely dash his hopes, if he has them, of being the Republican nominee for President in 2020) or, more interesting, Nancy Pelosi soliciting votes from Republicans by proposing a similar, though of course substantively different, power-sharing arrangement. I'm been persuaded that the structure of American politics makes such formal arrangements impossible.

But, without participation by the House and Senate, we wouldn't have a real government of national unity. We'd have a government in which the President tries to govern from the middle out, and in which the Senate and or House continues to obstruct that effort.

I'm not opposed to the idea of a government national unity, but Wittes's proposal strikes me as half (or one-third) baked, given the U.S. institutional/constitutional structure.

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