Seat-Jockeying and the Separation of Powers

An item from today’s Politico Playbook newsletter highlights an important aspect of Washington culture: the importance of proximity to power.

PELOSI’S LATEST HEADACHE — “Lawmakers scramble for ‘musical chairs’ to view Biden’s first Capitol speech,” by Mel Zanona and Sarah Ferris: “Which is a hotter ticket: Beyonce’s first post-pandemic concert or President Joe Biden’s first address to Congress? Washington is about to find out. Even as life slowly returns to normal on Capitol Hill amid the shrinking threat of Covid, strict safety protocols will remain in place for Biden’s April 28 joint address inside the House chamber. That means only 200 lawmakers, administration officials and staff will likely be allowed to attend the distanced and heavily sanitized event, a far cry from the typical crowds for a prime-time presidential speech.

“Such tight limits mean Democrats are already jockeying to score one of the precious few seats. And a handful of lawmakers have already logged a request with party leaders, who have the unenviable task of divvying up the small passel of tickets for the president’s debut speech.”

“Jockeying” is one word for it. We’re told the situation surrounding Biden’s speech is already downright contentious. One Democratic source told us that some in leadership didn’t even want to have this address because they knew it would cause this very problem with their members. People will feel jilted if they don’t get an invite. And Speaker NANCY PELOSI can’t afford that now because her majority is so narrow. But Biden wanted it, and the president gets what he wants.

This is not to pick on Democrats. Republicans are even worse.

Their power-worship problem got so bad, they opted against having a specific party platform for the first time since the GOP’s founding before the Civil War. Instead they pledged to support any policies then-President Trump put forward. They also went along with Trump’s attempt to change the 2020 election results, culminating in the violence at the Capitol on January 6. Even now, officials view trips to Mar-a-Lago as almost pilgrimages and are afraid to upset him.

I’ve been arguing since the Bush 43 years that the executive branch has grown too powerful. The previous administration’s excesses should have been enough to teach a lesson to both parties a lesson about the separation of powers. While the Democratic seat-jockeying episode is minor compared to the past year’s other debasements, it does not inspire hope.

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