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Being a 'lame duck' has its perks, too

If we can learn one lesson from the transitioning debacle of 1933, prohibiting access to information and hindering the progression of the incoming administration can cause the loss of American lives.

By Tara Bailey


-Did you Know?-


Did you know the term “lame duck” derives from the London Stock Exchange? In the 18th century, it referred to a stockbroker who defaulted on his debts. The term shifted to American politics in the 19th century. The "Congressional Globe," the first known record of the United States Congress, pioneered the term.


“In no event… could [the Court of Claims] be justly obnoxious to the change of being a receptacle of ‘lame ducks’ or broken-down politicians.”


Translated to Pittsburghese, it means, 'there’s no good reason for the dahntahn courts to act like jagoffs because your time is up in office.”


Fast forward to October 2020. According to Forbes Magazine, the current sitting president Donald Trump is $1 billion in debt. He lost the 2020 presidential election and to quote poet Dylan Thomas “will not go gentle into that good night.”

→ Did you know lame duck officials have the propensity of less political power? Meaning, domestic and foreign politicians are less inclined to cooperate with them. However, it is not all bad being a lame-duck; it has its perks. Lame ducks are in the anomalous position of not facing the consequences of their actions while waiting for the transition of power.


This gives them greater freedom to act facetiously and issue unpopular decisions or appointments. Whether that be fast-tracking supreme court nominees, rapidly withdrawing military troops, or firing government officials over Twitter. Republican Senator Mitt Romney is cautioning the American public about the consequences of President Donald Trump’s actions. On CNN David Axelrod’s podcast the “Axe Files” Romney stated, "the consequences of what's happening during this lame-duck period, I think, are potentially more severe than the consequences associated with a late transition process." Inevitably, there may be minimal repercussions for Trump, but the ramifications from his lame-duck period could have lasting effects.

→ Did you know the constitution contains two restrictions on presidential pardons? A President can grant mass pardons for colleagues, friends, or family. Only when the pardon is an offense against the United States — that is, a federal crime and not a state or local crime. U.S. President Bill Clinton was widely criticized for issuing 140 pardons and clemency on his last day in office. He pardoned two-former allies, political donors, fellow Democrats, and his half-brother Roger Clinton Jr. In January 2001, before his brother left office, he granted him a presidential pardon for his 1985 cocaine possession and drug-trafficking conviction.


Clinton is not the only U.S. President who granted mass exit pardons. January 1, 2009, George W. Bush pardoned 18 people whose crimes ranged from aiding embezzlement of bank funds to conspiracy to defraud the United States government. Pardons are a perk of being a lame duck, but a president cannot use the pardon power to save himself or another official from impeachment.



→ Did you know traditionally in many countries, including America, toward the facilitation of a smooth transition, an outgoing president (lame duck) accepts advice from and consults with the president-elect? That tradition is not being implemented by the Trump administration to work with the incoming President-Elect Biden administration. GSA Administrator Emily Murphy, a Trump appointee facilitates the postelection presidential transfer of power. Unprecedently, as a “wink and a nod,” to her loyalty, Murphy is delaying the process. Damaging as this could be to American Democracy, Trump is following in the footsteps of his predecessor U.S. Lame Duck President Herbert Hoover. At the end of Hoover’s presidency, he refused a meeting with Franklin D. Roosevelt administration to construct a joint program to stop the Great Depression. Hoover claimed by collaborating with Roosevelt would limit his options. From his lack of cooperation, his strategy guaranteed by the time Roosevelt swore the oath of office, the financial crisis would exacerbate and cause Hoover to become the most hated man in America.


Comparing the Great Depression to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the second greatest financial crisis since the Depression is homogenous. According to the Pew Research center “the COVID-19 recession is comparable more to the Great Depression of the 1930s when the unemployment rate estimated to have reached 25%.” Unemployment rose higher in three months of COVID-19 than it did in two years of the Depression. The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic crisis and COVID-19 is a global pandemic. It is also advisable for the office of the presidency to stop “flexing” the lame duck perks by preventing a peaceful transition of power.


If we can learn one lesson from the transitioning debacle of 1933, prohibiting access to information and hindering the progression of the incoming administration can cause the loss of American lives. The U.S. COVID-19 death rate among Americans is over 250,000. Vinegary feelings, egos, and lame-duck tendencies come second to saving American lives. It may be difficult to accept the election results, which is understandable. But the people have spoken and acceptance for the greater good trumps it all.


→ Did you know the 20th Amendment is titled the Presidential Term and Succession Assembly of Congress? Commonly known as the “Lame Duck Amendment,” removed the excessively long time a defeated president or member of Congress would continue to serve after his/her failed election bid. Amendment 20, Section 1 states “The terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January.” In 1933, it was added to the Constitution of the United States, indicating the beginning and ending dates of presidential and congressional terms. Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska proposed it on March 2, 1932, certified the following January and ratified on January 23, 1933.


After the 1933 legislative sessions, all 48 states approved the “Lame Duck” 20th Amendment. This is one of the few amendments to the Constitution that all states ratified and the fastest legislation to overcome that hurdle. It is amazing the feats that we the people can accomplish when everyone works together.

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