PSQ prides itself on publishing scholarship created by the best and brightest in their respective fields. To highlight some of these exciting contributors and provide an in-depth look at the broader work our authors do, we bring you our Featured Author interview series.
Douglas L. Kriner (pictured left) is a Professor of Government at Cornell University. His research interests include the presidency, Congress, and separation of powers dynamics. He has authored four books, most recently (with Eric Schickler) Investigating the President: Congressional Checks on Presidential Power, and (with Andrew Reeves) The Particularistic President: Executive Branch Politics and Political Inequality. His work has also appeared in American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, and Journal of Politics, among other outlets.
Eric Schickler (pictured right) is Jeffrey & Ashley McDermott Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests include the Congress, political parties, race and politics, and American political development. He is the author of five books, most recently Investigating the President: Congressional Checks on Presidential Power (2016, with Douglas Kriner), and Racial Realignment: The Transformation of American Liberalism, 1932-1965 (2016).
What initially sparked your interest in the separation of power, particularly as it pertains to the Russia probe?
The oft-forgotten second chapter of Mayhew’s seminal Divided We Govern argues that “beyond making laws, Congress probably does nothing more consequential than investigate alleged misbehavior in the executive branch.” Yet, with a few exceptions, Congress scholars have paid surprisingly little attention to Congress’ capacity to use its investigative power to exercise a check on an ascendant executive. In our recent book, Investigating the President, we examined congressional investigative activity from 1898 through 2014 to explore both the factors driving variation in Congress’ use of investigative oversight over time and the pathways through which investigations have routinely effected significant shifts in politics and public policy. The Russia probe offered an excellent opportunity to revisit our findings and to explore how investigative politics under unified government in the Trump administration both fit with and diverge from past patterns.
How do you think your work on this article will guide you in your future research?
Our research explored how investigative politics have changed in an era of intense partisan polarization. We found that serious investigative activity in the House has become almost exclusively a feature of divided government in recent years (a general pattern that finds further support in the stark contrast between the House and Senate Russia probes). We also found that as polarization increased, investigations have been less likely to spur new legislation or preemptive presidential policy concessions and instead have focused more on bringing about change indirectly by inflicting political damage on the White House. The Russia probe – both how it evolves following the 2018 midterm elections and how congressional investigators respond to the ultimate findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller – will offer further insights into investigative politics in today’s intensely polarized polity.
What kind of response do you hope your work elicits from your readers? Ideally, what kind of critical thought do you hope your article inspires?
We hope that our research reinforces the growing emphasis in institutional scholarship on the more indirect pathways through which Congress influences and checks presidential power. To be sure, presidents enjoy significant institutional advantages over Congress, including, ultimately, the power to veto efforts at legislative redress. However, Congress still possesses a range of tools to push back against presidential overreach and inflict political costs on the administration should it stray too far from congressional preferences. A better understanding of how and under what conditions these informal checks operate (or fail to do so) is critical to understanding contemporary separation of powers politics.
Professor Kriner can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Professor Schickler at email@example.com