Signing Statements Redux; AP Has Your Back, BHO
01/01/2012 While running for the Presidency four years ago, Barack Obama specifically pledged (when asked in early April of that year) that he would not employ the use of signing statements with legislation in order to get around Congressional mandates.
He strongly criticized then-President Bush for the use of signing statements, saying that the use of signing statements was extra-Constitutional on the part of the Bush Administration. And he pointed out that as a former professor of Constitutional Law, he knew better and would respect his proper constitutional role by refusing to employ the tactic to "do an end run around Congress."
Here was exactly how he put it on April 8, 2008, in response to being asked"
"When Congress offers you a bill do you promise not to use Presidential signing statements to get your way."
Said he, unequivocally, "Yes."
Following the applause and a few shouts of approval from the audience, he tapped the microphone to make sure it was on, and went in to full professorial mode, proceeding to give everyone a little civics lesson in the separation of powers, in the course of which he deeply criticized the Bush Administration for the use of signing statements, which he said had been done in violation of our Constitution.
"Let me just explain for those who are unfamiliar with this issue. Uhh, you know we got a, uhh, a government, uhh, designed by the founders so that they'red be checks and balances. You don't want a President who is too powerful, or a Congress that is too powerful, or Courts that's too powerful. Everybody's got their own role.
Congress's job is to pass legislation. The President can veto it or he can sign it. But what George Bush has been trying to do as 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 saying 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.'
Uhh, 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 10 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.
Setting aside for the moment his serious exaggeration about what President Bush had attempted to accomplish through the employment of signing statements, the fact remains that if Obama seriously believed that Bush-era signing statements were so fundamentally unconstitutional, there were remedies, including through the courts to challenge the Administration, remedial measures which the former "Con Law" professor never pursued, other than rhetorically.
Since becoming President, and in contravention of his views expressed before becoming President, Obama has continued to regularly employ the use of signing statements to attempt to stamp his administration's policy views on legislation passed by Congress.
Just yesterday, for example, he attached a lengthy and highly critical signing statement to the Defense authorization bill recently passed by both Houses of Congress, in which he voiced "serious reservations" over a few provisions, and in which he added that he would interpret and implement the new law as he saw fit.
Here are a few key provisions lifted from his statement:
. . .
"The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it. In particular, I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists. Over the last several years, my Administration has developed an effective, sustainable framework for the detention, interrogation and trial of suspected terrorists that allows us to maximize both our ability to collect intelligence and to incapacitate dangerous individuals in rapidly developing situations, and the results we have achieved are undeniable. Our success against al-Qa'ida and its affiliates and adherents has derived in significant measure from providing our counterterrorism professionals with the clarity and flexibility they need to adapt to changing circumstances and to utilize whichever authorities best protect the American people, and our accomplishments have respected the values that make our country an example for the world.
Against that record of success, some in Congress continue to insist upon restricting the options available to our counterterrorism professionals and interfering with the very operations that have kept us safe. My Administration has consistently opposed such measures. Ultimately, I decided to sign this bill not only because of the critically important services it provides for our forces and their families and the national security programs it authorizes, but also because the Congress revised provisions that otherwise would have jeopardized the safety, security, and liberty of the American people. Moving forward, my Administration will interpret and implement the provisions described below in a manner that best preserves the flexibility on which our safety depends and upholds the values on which this country was founded.
. . . . (my emphasis added)
The Associated Press, per reporter Julie Pace, chose to cover the story with as positive a spin as she could possibly muster, including by completely misrepresenting Mr. Obama's campaign position from back in 2008.
From her story:
". . .That statement is completely disingenuous, and it would be downright laughable, if it were not for the fact that this bill dealt with matters so fundamentally affecting our national security.
Signing statements allow presidents to raise constitutional objections to circumvent Congress' intent. During his campaign for the White House, Obama criticized President George W. Bush's use of signing statements and promised to make his application of the tool more transparent.
. . . ."
As can be seen from the video clip, above (and the transcription) neither the views expressed in that "signing statement" above, nor the AP representation of that specific 2008 commitment regarding signing statements, in any way harmonize with, or can be coordinated with the views expressed his 2008 position.
The AP just made that up.
But the President has little to be concerned about in this regard. As usual, the AP has his political back.
As Mel Brooks once (actually thrice) put it in another "historical" context, "It's good to be the King!"