Sorry, Congress. On Seal Conservation, Obama Goes it Alone.

Elephant seals are seen on the Piedras Blancas' beach, near Carmel, California, 25 December 2006.
National Journal
Clare Foran
March 11, 2014, 10:39 a.m.

When Pres­id­ent Obama told Con­gress he was go­ing to use his “phone and pen” to push policy without law­makers’ per­mis­sion, seal and seabird con­ser­va­tion prob­ably didn’t top his agenda.

Nev­er­the­less, Obama on Tues­day uni­lat­er­ally ex­pan­ded a na­tion­al monu­ment in North­ern Cali­for­nia, adding new pro­tec­tions for thou­sands of acres of Pa­cific coast­line. The newly pro­tec­ted land, which is about 100 miles up the coast from San Fran­cisco, is part of the Point Arena pub­lic lands — a swath of coast­line that provides hab­it­at for a string of threatened creatures, in­clud­ing an en­dangered beaver spe­cies and the Cali­for­nia red-legged frog.

It’s also a mar­ine-mam­mal bon­anza, ac­cord­ing to the White House, which billed it as home to “har­bor seals, Steller sea lions, and an oc­ca­sion­al ele­phant seal.”

But though seal hab­it­at is hardly a hot top­ic in the end­less Belt­way battles, Obama’s monu­ment des­ig­na­tion nev­er­the­less found its way in­to the on­go­ing power struggle between the pres­id­ent and con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans.

To ex­pand the monu­ment, Obama used the An­tiquit­ies Act, a cen­tury-old stat­ute that al­lows the pres­id­ent to cre­ate na­tion­al monu­ments by use of ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion. Obama has now used that au­thor­ity to make 10 such des­ig­na­tions. Without it, cre­at­ing monu­ments would re­quire an act of Con­gress.

Doc Hast­ings, the Wash­ing­ton Re­pub­lic­an atop the House Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee, ripped the pres­id­ent for go­ing it alone. The House passed le­gis­la­tion to ex­pand the Cali­for­nia monu­ment in Ju­ly, and Hast­ings said Obama should have waited for — or de­man­ded that — the Sen­ate take ac­tion on its own ver­sion of the bill.

“In­stead of us­ing im­per­i­al powers, the pres­id­ent should pick up the phone and call upon Sen­ate Demo­crats to take ac­tion,” Hast­ings said in a state­ment. “There is no in­her­ent danger to this area of com­pel­ling reas­on for the pres­id­ent to take uni­lat­er­al ac­tion now. The Sen­ate simply needs to do their job and pass the bill.”

More broadly, however, con­gres­sion­al im­passe has kept con­ser­va­tion des­ig­na­tions at a stand­still. The 112th Con­gress was the first in more than four dec­ades not to pass le­gis­la­tion des­ig­nat­ing a single new acre of wil­der­ness.

Demo­crats and en­vir­on­ment­al groups have tra­di­tion­ally pushed such des­ig­na­tions. Re­pub­lic­ans have been gen­er­ally wary of them, as they’ve been hes­it­ant to put re­stric­tions on en­ergy de­vel­op­ment and fre­quently de­man­ded such des­ig­na­tion have near-un­an­im­ous loc­al sup­port.

That grid­lock, however, may be crack­ing, if only slightly: The House last week voted to grant wil­der­ness pro­tec­tion for sev­er­al thou­sand acres of Michigan shoreline. The Sen­ate had already ap­proved the meas­ure, and — with a soon-to-be-is­sued sig­na­ture from Obama — it will mark the 113th Con­gress’s first suc­cess­ful land-con­ser­va­tion des­ig­na­tion.

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
These (Supposed) Iowa and NH Escorts Tell All
8 hours ago
NATIONAL JOURNAL AFTER DARK

Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:

  • Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
  • Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
  • They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
  • One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
Source:
STATE VS. FEDERAL
Restoring Some Sanity to Encryption
8 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
8 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Hillary Is Running Against the Bill of 1992
8 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Trevor Noah Needs to Find His Voice. And Fast.
9 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”

Source:
×