It’s not for the first time, either — and not even the first time for a defense authorization bill. Under fire from civil libertarians on his left, Barack Obama will add a signing statement objecting to the McCain-Levin amendment on the jurisdiction of terror suspects captured in or out of the US. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the decision in an interview with the Wall Street Journal:
Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed speculation Wednesday that President Barack Obama would issue a signing statement when he makes the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and its controversial detention provisions law.
“We made really substantial progress in moving from something that was really unacceptable to the administration to something with which we still have problems,” Holder said in response to a question from the Wall Street Journal’s Evan Perez. “But I think through these procedures, with these regulations we will be crafting, we can minimize the problems that will actually affect us in an operational way.”
Of course, readers will recall this lecture on constitutional law from Professor Obama during the 2008 campaign. Obama regularly excoriated George W. Bush for adding signing statements and called them a violation of the separation of powers, and told an audience that he would veto a bill he thought trampled on the Constitution and individual rights:
Q: When Congress offers you a bill, do you promise not to use presidential signage [sic] to get your way?
OBAMA: Yes. [Applause] Let me just explain for those who are unfamiliar with this issue. You know, we’ve got a government designed by the founders so that there’d be checks and balances. You don’t want a President that’s too powerful or a Congress that’s too powerful or courts that are too powerful. Everybody’s got their own role. Congress’ job is to pass legislation. The President can veto it, or he can sign it. But what George Bush has been trying to do is part of his effort to accumulate more power in the Presidency, is, he’s been saying, “Well, I can basically change what Congress passed by attaching a letter that says ‘I don’t agree with this part’ or ‘I don’t agree with that part.’ I’m going to choose to interpret it this way or that way.” Uh, that’s not part of his power. But this is part of the whole theory of George Bush that he can make laws as he’s going along. I disagree with that. I taught the Constitution for ten years, I believe in the Constitution, and I will obey the Constitution of the United States. We’re not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end run around Congress.
Back to Eric Holder for the punchline:
“So we are in a better place, I think the regulations, procedures that will help, and we’ll also have a signing statement from the president” which will help clarify how they view the law, Holder said.
What does that sound like? Why, it sounds like an end run around Congress via a signing statement, doesn’t it? Granted, it’s not the same as doing end runs around Congress through the EPA, but it apparently no longer offends the Constitutional law lecturer to use the same mechanism he derided as a presidential candidate. He seems pretty darned happy to find out that signing statements actually are “part of his power,” or at least happy to make that argument now that he’s in position to benefit by it.