The inevitable, and inevitably pathetic, follow-up to Friday night’s news dump in which The One quietly rejected Congress’s defunding of his czars. Carney cites, among other reports, an interview Obama gave to Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe on the campaign trail in late 2007. Let’s revisit it, shall we?
Signing statements have been used by presidents of both parties, dating back to Andrew Jackson. While it is legitimate for a president to issue a signing statement to clarify his understanding of ambiguous provisions of statutes and to explain his view of how he intends to faithfully execute the law, it is a clear abuse of power to use such statements as a license to evade laws that the president does not like or as an end-run around provisions designed to foster accountability.
I will not use signing statements to nullify or undermine congressional instructions as enacted into law. 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. The fact that President Bush has issued signing statements to challenge over 1100 laws – more than any president in history – is a clear abuse of this prerogative. No one doubts that it is appropriate to use signing statements to protect a president’s constitutional prerogatives; unfortunately, the Bush Administration has gone much further than that.
I’m highlighting every third word or so in that excerpt because every third word represents a different argument. In a nutshell: It’s okay to issue a signing statement where the bill is unclear or where there’s a legit constitutional objection. Where, however, Congress’s will is clear and you’re floating a bogus constitutional objection as an excuse to disregard part of the bill, then the signing statement is off limits. Question: How do we know if a president’s constitutional objection is legitimate or bogus? Presumptive answer: If the president making the objection is named “Barack Obama,” it’s totally solid. That’s the best I can do to wring a cogent explanation out of this for why his Friday night statement asserting “constitutional responsibilities” isn’t completely hypocritical. And I do mean completely: Note how he singled out “provisions designed to foster accountability” in his 2007 answer to the Globe. The big problem with his czars all along has been that not all of them are accountable to Congress in the way that duly confirmed cabinet officials are. So Congress, quite naturally, decided to cut off their funding — as part of a budget deal blessed by the White House and the Democratic leadership — and The One decided to simply wish that provision away after the fact. That’s “accountability,” Hopenchange style. I can only assume that, if pressed, he’d resort to saying that at least he hasn’t done this a thousand times like Bush did. A president’s entitled to ignore the Constitution once or twice, as long as he doesn’t make a habit of it, right?
I already posted it on Friday night but I’m reposting the clip below of him talking about signing statements at a townhall meeting on the trail in early 2008, five months after he spoke to the Globe. No equivocation in his answer this time; when standing before the Hopenchange faithful, he was resolute that if the president objects to a provision in a bill on his desk, whether for constitutional reasons or otherwise, his only option was to veto it. Had he taken that advice in this case, it would have forced a government shutdown, which would have struck a blow to the one thing he cares about above all others, i.e. his own reelection. So he did what he normally does in a tough situation and ignored a campaign pledge to his base. Why shouldn’t he? They’ll vote for him anyway. Click the image to watch.