On this day in 1834, President Andrew Jackson was censured (or condemned) by the Senate for withholding a paper that he had read to his cabinet regarding his defunding of the Bank of the United States. In the past two years, President Obama has also withheld documents from the Senate, even invoking executive privilege to do so.
With the president also withholding hundreds of thousands of documents from the people, it seems that if the Senate of 1834 were still in power, President Obama would likely be censured just as President Jackson was 179 years ago.
In 1831, President Jackson decided to dismantle the Bank of the United States, claiming that it privileged the rich over the poor, was not subject to the same restraints as private banks (as it could engage in unsafe banking practices), was unfairly funded and backed by taxpayer money, and had too many foreign investors. Thus, when the Senate passed a bill to renew the bank’s charter, Jackson used his presidential veto to prevent the bank’s continued existence. Afterward, Jackson held a meeting with his cabinet which generated classified documents regarding the veto.
The Senate soon learned of this meeting and later requested the cabinet’s papers, which Jackson refused to release. In 1834, with anti-administration senators in power, ten weeks of debate led the Senate to vote in favor of censure of the president by a vote of 26-20.
Fast-forward 179 years to the day and President Obama is accused of possibly withholding documents (with most of the accusations coming from Republicans) in regard to the 2009-2011 Operation Fast and Furious gunwalking scandal. Operation Fast and Furious allowed known or suspected gun smugglers to purchase weapons in Arizona so that these smugglers could be tracked and eventually shut down. Many of these weapons ended up at murder scenes in both the U.S. and Mexico, and even resulted in the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
The current administration has also been accused of withholding documents requested by the Senate on the 2012 Benghazi attack. Senators are requesting more information regarding the death of four American citizens, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who died during an assault on the American embassy in Libya. Senator Rand Paul, who was later joined by four other senators, even went so far as to filibuster the Senate for more information regarding the attack. The president is fortunate that today’s Senate is not as vicious as the Senate of 1834, but his administration still lacks overall transparency.
A record 479,000 document requests made by the people in 2012 were rejected, according to the Associated Press. And while the president may have also responded to a record number of requests (603,000), many of these responses were incomplete as only partial information was given (see image below).
As you can see, even responses to information requests are sometimes incomplete, making transparency a weak point in the current administration.
With President Obama’s denial of Senate requests for documents and the record number of information requests by the people, the president’s record on transparency is a far cry from his promised "most open and transparent [administration] in history." The president should count his lucky stars that he does not live in 1834, or he may very well have been censured by the Senate for withholding documents and lacking transparency.