Video: Signing statements, then and now

posted at 8:03 am on March 13, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

On the campaign trail, candidate Barack Obama railed against the use of signing statements as an abuse of presidential authority. Obama appears here in May 2008 in Grand Junction, Colorado, answering a question from the crowd about Bush’s signing statements. He goes into Constitutional professor mode, lecturing the crowd on the role of the president regarding legislation, and noting that presidents can either sign legislation or veto bills, but says that attempting to change bills through signing statements is a power grab:

President Barack Obama, on the other hand, has no problem with such “power grabs”, adding a significant one to the omnibus bill:

At the same time, after Democrats criticized former President George W. Bush’s signing statements, Mr. Obama issued one of his own, declaring five provisions in the spending bill to be unconstitutional and nonbinding, including one aimed at preventing punishment of whistleblowers.

Presidents have employed signing statements to reject provisions of a bill without vetoing the entire legislation. Democrats and some Republicans have complained that Mr. Bush abused such statements by declaring that he would ignore congressional intent on more than 1,200 sections of bills, easily a record. Mr. Obama has ordered a review of his predecessor’s signing statements and said he would rein in the practice.

“We’re having a repeat of what Democrats bitterly complained about under President Bush,” said Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.), who drafted legislation to nullify Mr. Bush’s signing statements.

Not only did Obama object to signing statements on the campaign trail, he specifically told the Boston Globe (reported by the Washington Post) that objections on constitutional grounds are particularly inappropriate for signing statements:

“The problem with this administration is that it has attached signing statements to legislation in an effort to change the meaning of the legislation, to avoid enforcing certain provisions of the legislation that the President does not like, and to raise implausible or dubious constitutional objections to the legislation,” Obama answered.

If a President believes a bill to be unconstitional, John McCain argued, he has a duty to veto it. Obama apparently agreed … in 2008. By Obama’s own definition, he’s become power-mad after only seven weeks on the job.

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