Forthcoming. "Presidential Particularism and U.S. Trade Politics," Political Science Research & Methods.
(with Andrew Clarke and Jeff Jenkins)
Research on presidential distributive politics focuses almost exclusively on federal domestic spending. Yet, presidential influence on public policy extends well-beyond grant allocation. Since the early 20th Century, for example, the president has had substantial discretion to adjust tariff schedules and non-tariff barriers “with the stroke of a pen.” These trade adjustments via presidential directive allow us to test the logic of presidential particularism in an area of policy understudied among presidency scholars. We examine unilateral adjustments to US trade policies between 1917 and 2006, with a detailed analysis of those made between 1986 and 2006, and find that presidents—in accordance with electoral incentives—strategically allocate trade protections to industries in politically valuable states. In general, states in which the president lacks a comfortable electoral majority are systematically more likely to receive protectionist unilateral orders. Overall, our results show that the president’s distributive imperative extends into the realm of foreign affairs, an arena in which the president has substantial authority to influence public policy.
2017. "Tariff Politics and Congressional Elections: Exploring the Cannon Thesis," Journal of
Theoretical Politics, 29 (3): pp. 382-414. (with Andrew Clarke and Jeff Jenkins)
While a number of studies have examined the politics of tariff decision-making in the United States, little work has examined the subsequent political effects of tariff policy. We help fill this gap in the literature by analyzing—both theoretically and empirically—the electoral implications of tariff revision. Specifically, we investigate the veracity of the Cannon Thesis—the proposition advanced by Speaker Joe Cannon in 1910 that the majority party in the U.S. House was punished when it made major revisions to the tariff. We find that from 1877 to 1934 major tariff revisions were, on average, associated with a significant loss of votes for majority-party members—both regionally and nationally—that translated into a loss of House seats. We find support for the notion that major tariff revisions generated inordinate uncertainty among various business interests, which the opposition party could then use (by leveraging fear and market instability) to mobilize its base and gain ground in the following election. Our results provide a new explanation for the delegation of tariff policymaking to the executive branch.
2017. "Congressional Investigations and the Electoral Connection," Journal of Law, Economics, and
Organization, 33 (1): pp. 1-27. (with Justin Peck)
We demonstrate that a direct “electoral connection” with voters motivates members of Congress to more vigorously investigate the executive branch during divided government. Our strategy for estimating the effect of the electoral connection is to leverage the enactment of 17th Amendment—which influenced the electoral mechanism for senators but not for members of the House of Representatives. This plausibly exogenous institutional variation allows us to isolate the effect of the electoral connection from other possible historical influences—such as the growth of the administrative state or the rise of political progressivism. We find that the 17th Amendment dramatically increased the Senate’s propensity to investigate during divided party control. Importantly, we also find little evidence of such an increase in the House. Our findings support the contemporary claim that congressional investigations are political tool motivated by the desire to discredit the opposition and reap individual electoral gains.
2016. "Informal Consequences of Budget Institutions in the U.S. Congress," Legislative Studies Quarterly.
41 (4): pp. 965-996. (with Andrew Clarke)
Though considerable research focuses on formal institutions in Congress, scholars have long acknowledged that much of what guides legislative behavior is unwritten. To advance this area, we leverage a tool that allows appropriators to redirect billions of dollars from mandatory programs to discretionary projects. Changes in mandatory program spending—known as “CHIMPs”—show that existing institutions are often maintained by the strategic action of legislators. In the case of CHIMPs, we find their use is largely a response to formal constraints and that they are preserved through avoidance of minimum reform coalitions. This highlights that the legislative process—and budgetary outcomes in particular—cannot be understood without attention to procedures which remain “off the books.”
2014. "After the Orders: Presidential Memoranda and Unilateral Action," Presidential Studies Quarterly.
44 (4): pp. 724-741.
An important vein of presidency scholarship has focused on the president's instruments of unilateral action through systemic considerations of executive orders, proclamations, and most recently, signing statements. This article considers an additional tool: presidential memoranda. I argue these memoranda contain important policy content advancing the president's agenda, and—like executive orders—they often indicate unilateral action. Memoranda use has surged as the issuance of executive orders has decreased, indicating that unilateralism is not declining, but rather, the means of such action may be shifting.
Forthcoming. "Public Perception of the Presidential Toolkit," Symposium on Experiments and the
Study of the Presidency, Presidential Studies Quarterly. (with Thomas Gray)
Studies of unilateral power typically analyze a single tool of presidential action (e.g., executive orders, memoranda, proclamations, and signing statements) in relative isolation. But scholars have long recognized that presidents boast a diverse toolkit with particular actions possessing variable suitability for a given political circumstance. We investigate one mechanism by which presidents may choose one tool over another: political cost. Specifically, we ask: does public perception of policy movement vary with the means used to alter the status quo? Leveraging a survey experiment conducted after the 2014 midterm elections, we find support for the idea that presidents have strong incentives to take action—any action—but that more salient means like executive orders have the potential to damage respondents’ evaluations of policy change. We report initial evidence that the means of unilateral action are endogenous to political circumstances and that studies that analyze them in isolation may be vulnerable to bias.
2014. "We Can't Wait": Barack Obama, Partisan Polarization, and the Administrative Presidency," The Forum
12 (1): 3-27. (with Sidney M. Milkis)
Scholars and pundits have usually depicted Barack Obama as a prisoner of partisan rancor in Congress, which has been especially fierce on the Republican side of the aisle. We argue, to the contrary, that he has actively – if sometimes reluctantly – embraced the role of party leader, even in the management of the bureaucracy, the arena in which the modern presidency’s claim to transcend partisanship was nurtured. The Administration’s public celebration of unilateralism – typified by the “We Can’t Wait” initiative – is emblematic of a far-reaching development within the presidency and American politics: the rise of an executive centered party-system, which relies on presidential candidates and presidents to pronounce party doctrine, raise campaign funds, campaign on behalf of their partisan brethren, mobilize grass roots support and advance party programs. Although this development poses hard challenges to collective responsibility and the rule of law that undergirds it, Obama’s innovative administrative tactics may be the harbinger of a new paradigm that extols unilateral presidential policymaking as a habitual solution to partisan polarization.
Politicization and Responsiveness in Executive Agencies (invited to revise & resubmit, The Journal Of Politics)
Scholarship on bureaucratic responsiveness to Congress typically focuses on delegation and for- mal oversight hearings. Overlooked are daily requests to executive agencies made by legislators that propose policies, communicate concerns, and request information or services. Analyzing over 24,000 of these requests made to 13 executive agencies between 2007-2014, I find agencies systematically prioritize the policy-related requests of majority party legislators—but that this effect can be counter-acted when presidents politicize agencies through appointments. An in- crease in politicization produces a favorable agency bias toward presidential co-partisans. This same politicization, however, has a net negative impact on agency responsiveness—agencies are less responsive to members of Congress, but even less responsive to legislators who are not presidential co-partisans. Critically, this negative impact extends beyond policy-related requests to cases of constituency service. The results suggest that presidential appointees play an important, daily mediating role between Congress and the bureaucracy.
Delegation or Unilateral Action? (invited to revise & resubmit, Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization; Winner, 2016 Wayne Founders Award for Best Graduate Student Paper, APSA Presidency and Executive Politics Section;
Winner, 2017 Malcolm Jewell Award for Best Graduate Student Paper, Southern Political Science Association)
Unilateral presidential actions often face implementation problems in the executive branch. I argue these actions are better studied as delegation. I model the conditions under which the president is likely to delegate—and provide discretion—to subordinates outside the Executive Office. I find members of Congress benefit from agency discretion when the President acts alone. The threat of congressional sanction induces agents to deviate from presidential priorities, and policy disagreement between the President and Congress increases bureaucratic non-compliance in insulated agencies. Nonetheless, in equilibrium, the president is more likely to delegate to insulated agents. Ultimately, the model demonstrates how the politics of direct action are influenced by the need for bureaucratic cooperation. Case studies on directives mandating public funding of gun violence research and security reforms at government facilities illustrate key features of the model.
Who Polices the Administrative State? Evidence from 20,000 Private Communications (under review)
Scholarship on oversight of the bureaucracy typically conceives of Congress as a unitary actor. But most oversight is conducted by individual legislators who contact agencies directly. I acquire the correspondence logs of a dozen bureaucratic agencies through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and re-evaluate the conventional proposition that ideological disagreement drives oversight. Improving on existing research designs, I identify the effect of this disagreement by exploiting the transition from George Bush to Barack Obama, which shifted the ideological orientation of agencies through turnover in agency personnel. Contrary to existing research, I find ideological conflict has a negligible effect on oversight, whereas committee roles and narrow district interests are primary drivers. The findings reveal that absent incentives induced by public auditing, legislator behavior is driven by policy valence concerns - rather than ideology. The results also suggest collective action in Congress may pose greater obstacles to bureaucratic oversight than previously thought.
The Vote-Buying President (with Andrew Clarke)
More than fifty years after Neustadt’s Presidential Power, studying the President’s influence on lawmaking remains hindered by the difficulty of tracking hidden lobbying efforts. To overcome this challenge, we leverage a comprehensive record of calls and conversations generated by Richard Nixon’s infamous taping system. We use this record—which provides an account of all meetings and calls between legislators and the President—to test alternative theories of presidential vote-buying. In keeping with a cartel-based model of presidential vote-buying, we find that the President disproportionately targets members of the majority party whose policy goals render them most likely to defect from the cartel arrangement. In addition to evaluating these extant theories, the results suggest conditions under which the presidents will successfully promote their legislative agenda.