Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 15, 2008

REMEMBER SIGNING STATEMENTS?.... There are plenty of reasons to look forward to the end of Bush's presidency, but I'm especially pleased at the prospect of having a president who won't sign bills into law, only to announce soon after which parts of the law he plans to ignore.

President Bush asserted on Tuesday that he had the executive power to bypass several parts of two bills: a military authorization act and a measure giving inspectors general greater independence from White House control.

Mr. Bush signed the two measures into law. But he then issued a so-called signing statement in which he instructed the executive branch to view parts of each as unconstitutional constraints on presidential power.

In the authorization bill, Mr. Bush challenged four sections. One forbid the money from being used "to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq"; another required negotiations for an agreement by which Iraq would share some of the costs of the American military operations there. [...]

In the other bill, he raised concerns about two sections that strengthen legal protections against political interference with the internal watchdog officials at each executive agency. One section gives the inspectors general a right to counsels who report directly to them. But Mr. Bush wrote in his signing statement that such lawyers would be bound to follow the legal interpretations of the politically appointed counsels at each agency.

If the president didn't like these provisions, he could have just vetoed the bill. But that's not the way Bush operates -- he likes to put his signature on legislation and then announce the parts of the legislation he has no intention of following.

And while his predecessors have used signing statements for various reasons, Bush is in a league of his own -- this president has used signing statements to "assert a right to bypass more than 1,100 sections of laws." That's nearly double the combined total of every other president in American history.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) told ThinkProgress: "The White House is holding on until the end to a strategy set early on by Vice President Cheney. With one pen the President signs a bill into law. With another stroke he chooses which parts of the law he will enforce. In undermining these watchdog reforms for inspectors general, the Bush-Cheney White House again is willing to subvert good-government accountability in order to buttress self-serving claims of unfettered authority."

Steve Benen 2:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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Comments

I swear to God that this evil piece of shit should be treated just as Mussolini was ...... right now .. the stench of his evil is like rotting fish ...

Posted by: stormskies on October 15, 2008 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

There should be an amendment to the Constitution to block the future use of signing statements.

And Bush has made twice as many WHAT compared to previous presidents--signing statements period, or signing statements that purport to ignore the law?

Posted by: Anon on October 15, 2008 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

How is a signing statement different from a line-item veto? Other that the fact that the line-item veto was declared unconstitutional, of course.

Posted by: Matt on October 15, 2008 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

So why haven't we impeached and convicted this constitutional criminal?

Oh, yeah...

Posted by: idlemind on October 15, 2008 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I would assume all the next president would have to do is strike from the record Bu$h's signing statements, no?

Posted by: citizen_pain on October 15, 2008 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

And Leahy and the rest of the Democrats are as guilty as Bush for letting it happen. Especially the last two years.

Posted by: Wayne on October 15, 2008 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

The good news is that with a Democratic president, the Republicans will finally see the light and put an end to this nonsense. Man, it must be so easy to not have any real ideas to commit to. If I were a Republican, I wouldn't have to think at all. Just follow the bouncing ball....

Posted by: fostert on October 15, 2008 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Wayne, and by what assurance should we feel that the signing statements will not be employed by Bush's successor? Since Congress allowed this practice to stand (without so much as a vote of censure, never mind firmer measures to protect the separation of powers), the precedent is established.

Posted by: Algernon on October 15, 2008 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

That should a question put to both candidates tonight: Will you reject the use of signing statements as part of your executive authority? If not, why not?

Posted by: Scott F. on October 15, 2008 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Will you reject the use of signing statements as part of your executive authority? If not, why not?

Great question. Wouldn't believe McCain's answer, though.

I'm just about ready to go into cryogenic storage until next January 20th just so that I don't have to think about GWB anymore. . .

Posted by: Michigoose on October 15, 2008 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

This is the second straight day I've seen someone ostensibly on 'our side' express a death wish towards a political figure. I again call for the moderator to get rid of this crap. We don't need to act like idiots at a Palin rally.

Posted by: Prup (aka Jim Benton) on October 15, 2008 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

I understand the practical reasons for not impeaching Bush. But in a world where principle trumps convenience, he would have at least been tried in the Senate. History will not be kind to the Congress of the last 12 years.

Posted by: Danp on October 15, 2008 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

It's called a "line-item veto."

Posted by: bob5540 on October 15, 2008 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Is there not a single instance among those 1,100 refered to where there is not someone somewhere that has legal standing to take the issue to court for resolution?

Posted by: Chopin on October 15, 2008 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Signing statements claiming un enforcability of parts of a law were held by the US Supreme Court to be unconstitutional, even for laws where Congress has agreed to allow them, in New York State v. Clinton.

Posted by: on October 15, 2008 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

"This is the second straight day I've seen someone ostensibly on 'our side' express a death wish towards a political figure. I again call for "the moderator to get rid of this crap."

I just went through the original post and the comments before you, and nobody has issued a death threat. I'm not sure which side you're on, but if you're complaining about Republican attacks on Obama, then who is the moderator? If it's us blogheads, surely we'd like to get rid of this crap, but we can't. But if it's the media, they have to report crap when they see it. It's not their fault. And if you think the right wing media is the moderator, then you need a dose of thorazine. And if you think someone here issued a death threat and the moderator on this site is to blame, then you need another dose of thorazine.

Posted by: fostert on October 15, 2008 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

Why aren't these signing statements, particularly the manner in which Bush uses (abuses) them, unconstitutional along the same lines as the Line Item Veto Act that the S.Ct. shot down?

Posted by: WagtheBlog on October 15, 2008 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

There should be an amendment to the Constitution to block the future use of signing statements.

There doesn't need to be. Article II says:

he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed

'nuff said.

Posted by: Gregory on October 15, 2008 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

Will you reject the use of signing statements as part of your executive authority? If not, why not?

This misses the point entirely - as does our good friend Pat Leahy. Our system of government is not supposed to be dependent on having a Good King.

If this is illegal, it is illegal. Take him to court, Pat. Impeach him, Pat. Oh, you didn't do any of that? You just sent him a couple of sternly worded notes?

Well, too bad for you, then. Too bad for us, too. Because now you've established a precedent.

Fortunately, we can count on Republicans to scream bloody murder about every overreaching action of a Democratic administration. (Along with all its other actions, of course.)

Posted by: tatere on October 15, 2008 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

And there's also Congress' power to declare people in inherent contempt, if they defy its subpoenas. Glad you guys used that one, Pat.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on October 15, 2008 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

fostert: If you read what I actually wrote, you'll see I used, very carefully, the term 'death WISHES' not 'death THREATS.' I was referring to stormskies' typically over the top rant in the first post. (I never thought I'd wish for the calmness of Tom Cleaver at his most aggravated until I ran into stormskies.)

As for which side I am on, I have been one of the few consistent voices here and on TCBR who did not abandon Obama when he failed to 'unleash the hounds' or when he voted -- correctly -- on the FISA matter, and who has predicted consistently for over six months that he would, and should, win over 400 EVs.

The 'moderator' I called for is the person who occasionally appears in these columns removing trolls and others. I assume he works for Washington Monthly, the owner of the blog. I did not say 'he was to blame' I called this death WISH, and one that occurred yesterday, to his attention. (Steve is too busy gathering material to moderate -- probably to read - the comments here, but there is a person who occasionally appears and has removed the posting of numerous trolls.

No, i do not need a dose of thorazine, but you, sir, need either new glasses, breathing exercises, or reading comprehension courses.


Posted by: Prup (aka Jim Benton) on October 15, 2008 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, there's nothing to stop impeachment proceedings against GWB after he leaves office. It will be so much easier to get criminal indictments against a non-sitting president; removes the partisanship, dontcherknow?

Posted by: Doug on October 15, 2008 at 7:22 PM | PERMALINK

As for the topic of the post, I agree that something should have been done in this matter, but, without the Congress bringing Bush to court over it -- which would have taken a majority vote, at least, would have been subject to filibuster in the Senate, and would have required the cooperation of many of the more conservative Democrats which is unlikely to have been achieved -- I do not know what.

(And please don't say 'impeachment.' Again, I can count. The 'blue dogs' in the House would have, probably, made a majority for impeachment impossible, there is NO WAY 17 Republican Senatorial votes could have been gathered for conviction (not even, as I said, if there were a picture of Bush, Larry Craig, and "My Pet Goat" in the same stall), and a failed impeachment would have been the one thing I can imagine that would have increased Bush's popularity and unified the Republican party.

I again challenge everyone who is seeking it or condemning Democrats for not trying it to give me that list of 17 Republican Senators they can imagine, under any circumstances convicting Bush on anything. There are no Scotts, Goldwaters, or Dirksens left who could have spoken for the party as was done in Watergate, and the Inhofes, Coburns, DeMints, and the rest wouldn't have gone along. If I'm wrong, post the list.

Bu7t hopefully, in the next Congress, with the overwhelming Democratic majority, there will be a way of keeping this from ever happening again -- and yes, I'd gladly support a Constitutional Amendment. Anyone want to draft one?

Posted by: Prup (aka Jim Benton) on October 15, 2008 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, there is precedent for impeaching someone who has left office, Belknap (can't remember first name) in Grant's cabinet. I'd gladly support this -- I've never denied Bush committed impeachable acts, just the possibility of convicting him -- and I certainly support -- and expect Obama to carry through on -- his statement that the first thing he would do on entering office is to have his Attorney General go through all of Bush's Executive orders and cancel any that were unconstitutional. Hope this includes signing statements as well.

Posted by: Prup (aka Jim Benton) on October 15, 2008 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK
Of course, there's nothing to stop impeachment proceedings against GWB after he leaves office.

The fact that he will no longer be an officer subject to impeachment would seem to be something of a barrier to that, OTOH:

It will be so much easier to get criminal indictments against a non-sitting president;

Since a sitting President is categorically immune to federal criminal prosecution, that would seem to be rather clearly the case.

Posted by: cmdicely on October 15, 2008 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, as I said above, there IS precedent for impeaching someone who has left office. Wm. Belknap was impeached -- but not convicted -- after he resigned.
"Belknap was tried by the Senate, which ruled by a vote of 37-29 that it had jurisdiction despite the resignation. The vote on conviction fell short of the two-thirds required, with 35 to 37 votes for each article and 25 votes against each. Two of those voting for conviction, 22 of those voting for acquital, and one who declined to vote said they felt that the Senate did not have jurisdiction due to Belknap's resignation."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_W._Belknap

Posted by: Prup (aka Jim Benton) on October 15, 2008 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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