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Other View: Now, it's all about the president

As the core of the Republican Party that is independent of President Donald Trump is corroded by retirements — Sens. Jeff Flake, Ariz., and Bob Corker, Tenn., most recent among them — the problem is not the decay of the moderate or independent element in Congress. It is the decay of the congressional element in Congress. The problem pertains far less to opposition to this president than to the long-range erosion of congressional resistance to the presidency as an institution. With defenders of congressional prerogative departing and their remaining colleagues orienting themselves in subservience or opposition to the White House, we are witness to the cementing of the presidency as the motive force in the American regime.

The retiring senators have been voices for congressional power. Corker, for example, asserted Congress’ right to review the Iran nuclear deal. Flake’s retirement address to the Senate channeled James Madison’s case for the separation of powers in calling on Congress to act on its institutional rather than partisan interests, joining across party lines to defend its own powers rather than dividing according to policy preferences. Flake has thus worked with his Democratic colleague Tim Kaine of Virginia on an effort to reclaim Congress’ war power by calling for a repeal of the post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force and replacing it with a more restrained resolution dealing with the Islamic State.

Contrast that institutionalist behavior with those who remain. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., rushed to the Senate floor a debt-ceiling deal Trump struck with the Democratic congressional leadership. The point is not the deal’s merit but rather McConnell’s reasons for pushing it: He was doing so, he said, “based on the president’s decision.” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, asked recently about his position on a legislative issue, replied that he was “with the president.” Asked where the president was, Cornyn reportedly threw his hands in the air. Democrats similarly acceded to President Barack Obama on questions of executive power, a tactic whose danger they are now learning as they object to Trump’s assertions of unilateral authority today.

This wholesale deference to the president is entirely contrary to constitutional expectation. Madison could not have even conceived of it. He based the system of separation of powers on the assumption that members of each branch of government would defend their institutional prerogatives because they would want to exercise power. What we have instead is outcome-based constitutionalism: a disintegration of the norms according to which it once mattered not just what happened, but how it happened. And whether a given policy is enacted by presidential fiat or by the steady and deliberate workings of Congress matters a great deal.

The idea of the separation of powers — the absence of which Madison called “the very definition of tyranny” — is to prevent any one individual or institution from exposing the citizenry to arbitrary power by controlling all the levers of government. Yet that is what today’s presidency commands: Presidents, by their signatures, direct vast swaths of domestic policy and questions of war and peace alike.

Citizens should object to this regardless of their views of a particular president. In the diversity allowed by a membership of 535, Congress more fully represents the richness of U.S. politics than the presidency, a binary institution with which, at a given moment, one either agrees or does not. This diversity also disperses rather than centralizes power. And Congress is usually institutionally incapable of the impetuosity that tempts presidents who can convert whims into policy.

It is true that Congress is increasingly unable to concur on legislation. In many ways, and for myriad reasons, that is a problem. But it is worth recalling that Congress’s job is not to legislate. It is to represent what Madison called “the cool and deliberate sense of the community.” Congress is designed to move slowly in order to dissipate passions and allow the public’s reason to take hold. It is not supposed to be able to generate major legislation on which broad and sustained public consensus does not exist.

To be sure, Congress has been in decline for generations. What is alarming recently is the extent to which the organizing principle of Congress is members’ attitude toward whatever administration is in office. This phenomenon may be inflamed by the intense feelings Trump arouses, but it is hardly confined to him.

In a reversal not only of the Founders’ expectations but also of their hopes, the presidency is now the sun around which all constitutional bodies orbit. At intervals, that is convenient for either side’s policy preferences. But if constitutionalism commends any principle, it is for all players in the system to remember that today’s winners will be tomorrow’s losers. Institutions are our hedge. Bargaining them away for temporary advantage — a game both sides have played — is a loser’s gamble.

Letters of Thanks

Thanks for donations

Kiwanis Club of Twin Falls wants to thank all for another successful October-feast. The proceeds from our event, over $7,500, will be used this year to fund our youth programs.

We especially want to thank our corporate underwriters: Falls Brand/Independent Meat, Lytle Signs, First Federal Savings Bank, Dick’s Pharmacy, United Dairymen of Idaho and Soran Restaurants Inc.

We also want to thank our corporate sponsors who purchased tickets to support our event: A Caring Hand-Home Health Care; Alliance Title and Escrow; Amalgamated Sugar Co.; Ameriprise Linen and Apparel Services; Banner Bank; Benoit Law Office; Blip Printers; Canyon Floral; Canyon Gate Dental; Lance and DeeDee Clow; Coldwell Banker Canyonside Realty; Coleman, Lopes and Co. PLLC; ConAgra/Lamb Weston Foods; Cooper Norman; D.L. Evans Bank; Deagle, Ames and Co.; Edward Jones; Dean Seibel; Farmers Bank; Gateway Realty; Hair and Nails, Etc.; Julie Durbin; Holmstead, Howe and Heward PLLC — CPA’s; Hub International Insurance; Industrial Electric Motor Service Inc.; Kids Count Too; KTFT 38; Leonard Petroleum; Jan and Mike McBride; Magic Valley Growers; Mark A. Plant, DDS; Middlekauff Automotive Group; Premier Auto Group; Reeder Flying Service; Reynolds Funeral Chapel; Rising Stars Riding Center; Rosenau Funeral Home and Crematory; Ruby Mountain Motors; Sav-mor Drug; Snake River Pool and Spa; Stephan, Kvanvig, Sone and Trainor; Stukenholtz Laboratory; Title One; Titlefact; Watkins Distributing; Westphal and Sons; White Mortuary and Crematory; and Wills Toyota.

Many hands make light work.

Ray Parrish and Mike McBride

Co-chairs Kiwanis Club of Twin Falls

Organizations thanking contributors or supporters.

Individuals thanking public agencies and businesses for extraordinary service.

Our View: Cheers and Jeers


Perhaps the most surprising thing about the downtown Twin Falls renovation isn’t the neat new look of the streets and sidewalks. It happened way back at the beginning of the project, when the city removed the trees along Main Avenue.

Those tall trees had been blocking the second stories and signage at a lot of downtown businesses, as well as views of mountains to the southeast.

It was as if the buildings’ old-timey architecture, character and charm were all suddenly revealed for the first time in decades.

Unfortunately for some business owners, their buildings were lacking some of the charm. The facades were simply old, worn down eyesores.

But inspired by the streets projects, many downtown business owners are doing their own sprucing up.

“With a downtown restoration, we’re trying to beautify and make sure we have a nice facade on our building as well,” said Jared Johnson, manager of the Orpheum Theatre. “Those large trees — as beautiful as they were — they’re not hiding those facades anymore. With those gone, we can see every detail of the architectural vision of what the designers of these buildings and the designers of the downtown wanted.”

Thankfully, most business owners are hewing close to the original designers’ intentions, rather than recladding over existing materials. That’s what led to some of the uglier storefronts to begin with.

Come check it out if you haven’t already. It’s striking to see how beautiful downtown once was — and how today’s business owners are restoring that beauty.


Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, is no snowflake. His career started as a hard-nosed prosecutor in Ada County. He bounced back from political defeat to become governor of Idaho. Today, he serves on the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is at the center of some of the most important issues around the globe.

But he simply can’t find it in himself to call out President Donald Trump.

In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that’s now gone viral, Risch says it’s not his job to criticize the president when he says something disagreeable.

Here’s the exchange:

Blitzer: But when he lies about something and you know it’s a lie, shouldn’t you speak up?

Risch: That’s your job.

Blitzer: But that’s your job. You’re a United States senator. You’re a co-equal branch of the United States government.

Risch: Wolf, if I went around criticizing a statement that was made by the President or any one of my fellow senators or any one of the congressmen up here or people in Idaho who hold public office and I stood up and talked every time they talked and said I don’t like this, I don’t like that, I’m criticizing — I’d be busy all day long.

What a cop out.

If a United States senator like Risch can’t compel the president to stop lying — or at the very least, correct the record for the American public when the president says something he knows to be untrue — who can?

Risch wants the media to do his dirty work, but then he often turns around and criticizes the media.

Here’s how CNN’s Chris Cillizza ended a column about the exchange this week:

“The whole damn point of public service is to serve the public. You do a disservice to the public when you abrogate your responsibility to tell the truth and ensure that those around you do the same. Case closed.”

We don’t expect Risch to take such drastic actions as his fellow senator Jeff Flake, who dramatically condemned the president when he announced last week he wouldn’t seek reelection. Risch was elected to represent Idahoans, who are deeply red and loyal to the Republican Party, after all.

But Idaho must have a senator who can call out a liar when he sees one, even if it is the president of the United States. No, especially when the liar is the president.


Cheers to the parents, students and business owners in the Cassia School District, who are volunteering and donating to help finish projects at district schools.

Most know by now that the district botched a voter referendum that underestimated what it would cost for a massive overhaul of the district’s schools.

Now, volunteers and donors are picking up the tab for some finishing touches, including a new sprinkler system and sod at Raft River High School. A Burley student, Tyler Muir, 13, raised $7,000 for new sod at John Evans Elementary and new outside benches.

Janis Warr of Malta led the sprinkler project.

“She was able to mobilize the community around her,” said Debbie Critchfield, district spokeswoman. “That is the magic and beauty of small towns.”