Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 3, 2007

MAKING A STATEMENT....Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has caved to White House demands on a wide variety of issues, but when it comes to presidential signing statements, the Pennsylvania senator has actually been pretty good. A year ago, he even tried to introduce legislation that would allow Congress to sue the president over his use of these legally dubious documents. He asked at the time, "What's the point of having a statute if ... the president can cherry-pick what he likes and what he doesn't like? ... If he doesn't like the bill, let him veto it."

Not surprisingly, Specter's Republican colleagues quickly would put the kibosh on the proposal. John McCain helped kill the bill, arguing, "I think the president will enforce the law." (Yes, McCain's child-like naivete is rather amusing in retrospect.)

Specter, however, is quite right. We have a bizarre dynamic at play: Congress passes bills, Bush signs the bills into law, and then, in several instances, after the president issues signing statements, the Bush administration decides not to do what the law mandates.

To his credit, Specter is giving his bill another shot.

Frustrated by the Bush administration's continued use of presidential signing statements to challenge or ignore provisions of Congressionally approved legislation, Senate Judiciary ranking member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has reintroduced legislation to rein in President Bush's ability to use the tactic.

Specter, who has long been a critic of Bush's use of signing statements, quietly introduced his Presidential Signing Statements Act of 2007 on Friday.

"The president cannot use a signing statement to rewrite the words of a statute nor can he use a signing statement to selectively nullify those provisions he does not like," Specter said in a floor statement.

Specter added, "If the president is permitted to rewrite the bills that Congress passes and cherry-pick which provisions he likes and does not like, he subverts the constitutional process designed by our framers."

To which the White House apparently responded, "Duh."

Steve Benen 12:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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Someday there will be a constitutional amendment requiring that the president enforce the laws that congress passes and he has not vetoed. Not enforcing the law and selective enforcement are a large weakness in our Constitution.

Posted by: slanted tom on July 3, 2007 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

If the President does not enforce the laws, the proper answer is not to sue him so he can ignore it some more. The answer is impeachment.

How many years would it take for a suit under this law to work through the courts to the Supreme Court?

Posted by: MobiusKlein on July 3, 2007 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

To which the White House apparently responded, "Duh."

Or, "the White House adopts Senator Spector's criticism only insofar as it is consistent with the President's prerogative to do as he likes."

Posted by: dj moonbat on July 3, 2007 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

"The president cannot use a signing statement to rewrite the words of a statute nor can he use a signing statement to selectively nullify those provisions he does not like," Specter said in a floor statement.

I wonder if Bush will do a "signing statement" in response to this legislation.

Seriously, I hope this goes to the Supreme Court and they take W down several notches (further) and affirm the law. I agree with Slanted Tom as well. We need a President that uses positive power, rather than negative power in a passive aggressive manner.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on July 3, 2007 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Well, now that Congress has abdicated its war-making powers to the President it might as well give up its legislative function too. Maybe Cheney could start presiding over the Senate with a shotgun in his hands just to make sure things go smoothly.

Posted by: JHM on July 3, 2007 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

This is just folly.

Laws like this only apply to Democrats.

Bush, or probably any Republican president, will simply make a signing statement saying he doesn't agree - or simply ignore it altogether.

Posted by: Mark-NC on July 3, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

It should be pointed out that here we have another parallel between GWB and Nixon.

Nixon tried his hand at a quasi line item veto by simply not spending money on programs that he did not approve of. (His argument was that although Congress has the sole authority to appropriate funds, POTUS has the sole authority to *spend* funds, including the authority *not* to spend.)

IIRC, this issue was resolved by SCOTUS, but I don't remember who (or what body) initiated the suit.

Maybe one of the constitutional lawyers on here can fill in the details.

Posted by: Disputo on July 3, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Seriously, I hope this goes to the Supreme Court and they take W down several notches (further) and affirm the law.

The *Bush* Supreme Court?

They're likely to rule (in a 5-4 decision) that POTUS' right to issue signing statements is covered by the First Amendment.

Posted by: Disputo on July 3, 2007 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Bush would just veto the bill if it's separate legislation, so what is the point?

Instead, for any bill where Congress lacks votes to override a veto, it should just add a poison pill to the bill. Something like the following:

"Should the President issue a 'signing statement' that claims the right to modify this legislation, or claims that some part of it interferes with the prerogatives of the executive branch, this bill as a whole is null and void".

That way, we'd be back to the status quo pre-Bush: the President can veto a bill, or accept it, nothing else. A "signing statement" would then be equivalent to a veto.

Posted by: Joe Buck on July 3, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

If the President isn't faithfully executing the laws of the United States, the Constitution has a very clear remedy.

Posted by: Ron on July 3, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

MobiusKlein wrote:

If the President does not enforce the laws, the proper answer is not to sue him so he can ignore it some more. The answer is impeachment.

It's funny to see all the loony lefties that are still desparate for Bush to be impeached during the last year of his 8 year term.

I think you guys should spend the next year working tirelessly to find a way to get Bush impeached. It would play really well during the '08 election cycle.

Keep it up, Mobius! You can do it!

Posted by: sportsfan79 on July 3, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

A year ago, he even tried to introduce legislation that would allow Congress to sue the president over his use of these legally dubious documents.

That's a pretty stupid idea. They already have the power to oversee the administration of the executive branch, and they have the power to impeach. The Constitution already enjoins the president to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on July 3, 2007 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

I think Specter's bill is going to gain a lot of support from Republican senators, and should be on track for enactment into law just before the Democratic Inaugural of 2009.

Posted by: Count Cant on July 3, 2007 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

"They're likely to rule (in a 5-4 decision) that POTUS' right to issue signing statements is covered by the First Amendment."
Posted by: Disputo on July 3, 2007 at 1:32 PM

Hmmm. If Bush vetoes the legislation, and if the Congress overrides him (which I think it just .. might), and W continues the practice, and somehow this winds up in front of the Supreme Court I think he will lose this and by possibly more than a simple majority. It is just a hunch. The conservative strict-constructionists might not take kindly to this ambiguous overreach on the part of the Executive.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on July 3, 2007 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

1. signing statements in and of themselves are pretty clearly covered by the First Amendment (ask yourself how they could not be?)...and it wouldn't be a 5-4 decision on that.

2. what effect signing statements may have on the actual application of legislation by government agencies and employees is a separate and more controversial matter.

Posted by: Nathan on July 3, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

"Presidential signing statements that assert President Bush’s authority to disregard or decline to enforce laws adopted by Congress undermine the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers, according to a report released today by a blue-ribbon American Bar Association task force."

But what do those guys know?

Posted by: trex on July 3, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Weren't you people listening?

President Bush threw a little tantrum and declared himself "the Decider." According to his Attorney General, that declaration makes the Constitution quaint and obsolete.

All hail King George IV!

Posted by: Otto Man on July 3, 2007 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

"The president cannot use a signing statement to rewrite the words of a statute nor can he use a signing statement to selectively nullify those provisions he does not like," Specter said in a floor statement.

Spector has been in the Senate the entire time that a succession of presidents have ignored the border enforcement provisions of the Simpson-Mazzoli bill. Now all of a sudden he is upset about selective enforcement of federal laws? Spare me the outrage, Senator Spector, and do your job.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on July 3, 2007 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

all Hail! protect me daddy!

Posted by: eggfart on July 3, 2007 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

I didn't say Bush must be impeached - just that passing a law saying the President must follow the law is both ineffective and unneeded.

If a President does not honor the oath of office "to faithfully execute the laws" that is sufficent grounds for impeachment. No new law is needed.

Posted by: MobiusKlein on July 3, 2007 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

oh please. who the hell is going to enforce it?

congress is utterly complicit in the criminality of this administration. they have failed miserably to carry out their sworn duties to uphold and defend the constitution of the united states, as they sit on their hands while the president-in-hiding cheney wipes his ass with what remains of the constitution.

Posted by: linda on July 3, 2007 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Does anyone have other examples of the use of signing authority? The issue of the border checkpoints seems pretty specific. What were the other ones?

Posted by: Trashhauler on July 3, 2007 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

slanted tom wrote: Someday there will be a constitutional amendment requiring that the president enforce the laws that congress passes and he has not vetoed.

We don't need an amendment; it's in the already: he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

Posted by: Gregory on July 3, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

...Spare me the outrage, Senator Spector, and do your job.
Posted by: MatthewRmarler on July 3, 2007 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, I completely agree.

However, Bush has pushed presidential abuse by selective-enforcement to a new level. If we don't act now - then, what's the next president going to try to get away with? When will congress START to assert its power? Ever?

This "Boss Hogg" administration has made the best case ever, for executive accountability.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on July 3, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

The most important thing we can do as Americans in 2008 is to vote and have our voices heard. If you have not registered to vote yet, go to WWW.DECLAREYOURSELF.COM to do so. Rock the vote!

Posted by: bringdowntheman on July 3, 2007 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

What I don't understand is why the Right goes along with all this.There will come a day when there is a Dem President and they may not like the outcome.The Vice President could wipe out the r party just because they want to.What can anybody do about it.The Pandora's Box is open and it may rain harder on R then on the D's

Posted by: john john on July 3, 2007 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

Boss Hogg had more sense than gwb, in my opinion.

Posted by: slanted tom on July 3, 2007 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

If the President isn't faithfully executing the laws of the United States, the Constitution has a very clear remedy." Posted by: Ron on July 3, 2007 at 1:36 PM

But like most laws in the US these days, there seems to be a lack of enforcement.

Posted by: Zit on July 3, 2007 at 8:32 PM | PERMALINK

The thing about Arlen Specter is that you can't bank on anything he does or says. It's always two-faced - the men the worthless.

Posted by: Me_again on July 3, 2007 at 9:06 PM | PERMALINK

It occurs to me that if Bush would just enforce the existing laws in regard to immigration there wouldn't be any subtantial immigration problem.

All this business about passing a new immigration bill is absurd. Bush would do better to lean on Mexicans to implement social and economic reforms so that the wealth of the nation wasn't locked up behind a dam of the powerful and the wealthy.

Posted by: Bingo on July 3, 2007 at 10:30 PM | PERMALINK

Bush would do better to lean on Mexicans to implement social and economic reforms so that the wealth of the nation wasn't locked up behind a dam of the powerful and the wealthy.

Why would Bush have any interest in getting Mexico to do the reverse of what he is doing in the US? Mexico is the model that Bush is trying to emulate here in the US.

Posted by: Disputo on July 4, 2007 at 1:48 AM | PERMALINK

Presidents would love to have line-item veto authority.

The U.S. Constitution does not give this authority.

Congress has not given any president this authority.

The courts have not given any president this authority.

And yet, President Bush, through his illegal signing statements has given himself this de facto line-item veto authority, contravening U.S. Legislative authority in the process, thus putting Bush in opposition to our Constitution and our country.

Thus, don't impeach Bush...DEPORT BUSH!!!!

Okay, okay, first let's impeach him and then deport him, along with Cheney, and Gonzales, and Rove, and Addington, to some small island in the South Pacific, far, far away from America, so children in America can stop waking up in the middle of the night, screaming in fear at these bozos still being in the White House.

Posted by: The Oracle on July 4, 2007 at 3:38 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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