Last week, the Wall Street Journal released a report on Barack Obama’s latest push to fulfill his most famous campaign promise—achieving the permanent closure of U.S. detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Senior administration officials are saying that the President is serious about coming through on the Gitmo closure, and is considering taking executive action to get the job done. The Wall Street Journal’s report reveals Obama’s two most likely routes to bypass Congress:

He could veto the annual bill setting military policy, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, in which the ban on transferring detainees to the U.S. is written. While the veto wouldn’t directly affect military funding, such a high-stakes confrontation with Congress carries significant political risks.

A second option would be for Mr. Obama to sign the bill while declaring restrictions on the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners an infringement of his powers as commander in chief, as he has done previously. Presidents of both parties have used such signing statements to clarify their understanding of legislative measures or put Congress on notice that they wouldn’t comply with provisions they consider infringements of executive power.

Similar efforts are likely on immigration, “climate change” and other areas where Obama is unable to obtain congressional approval.

Whichever option he chooses, he’s sure to meet with political backlash that won’t be limited to anger at the White House. Although the 2014 midterms will be behind us by the time the President makes the choice to act, the use of executive action on the issue could have a detrimental effect on democrats seeking election (or re-election) in 2016.

Midterm elections are notoriously “anti-party in power,” and 2014 is shaping up to fit with that trend. But what about 2016? We still have two years to go, but while that gives Obama time to fulfill his agenda, it also gives Republicans and budding candidates time to highlight the White House’s abuse of power, and congressional Democrats’ failure to stop it.

We already know that a majority of Americans believe that the federal government “tries to do too many things,” and that around 35% prefer truly limited government. If Republicans can commit to a messaging tactic that focuses on the times that Democrats failed to speak out against Obama’s desire to take executive action, they may be able to increase the thin majority Republicans are likely to gain in 2014.

This tactic—and Republican success in general—depends largely on both candidates and activists recognizing that all politics is local. Congressman serve in Washington, but they represent districts with unique challenges and viewpoints. The issue of executive overreach needs to be taken to the local level, and candidates need to emphasize that not only is Obama bypassing Congress, he’s also bypassing the will of the people.

Barring companion legacy building legislation coming out of Congress, there’s likely nothing we can do if Obama chooses to exercise his executive privilege (that won’t pass out of the Senate until Harry Reid is gone, so we can give up on that pipe dream until at least January 2015,) and we need to be prepared for that.

This is his last term, and after the 2016 elections he’ll be free to return to Chicago, write another book, and plot against fiscally responsible policy.

What we can do, however, is start putting pressure on local Democrats to speak out against what Obama wants to do; if they’re smart, they’re already looking for ways to distance themselves from the impending trainwreck. If they fail to do so, that gives us the opportunity to paint targets on the backs of every single candidate who put political maneuvering at a higher priority than actually representing his constituents.

Barack Obama is focused on using the last two years of his term as an opportunity for legacy building; if Republicans can seize on this messaging opportunity, they can shape the legacy in ways Obama may not be expecting.


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