Secrecy News

White House Signing Statements “Unsubstantiated,” Report Says

The Bush Administration’s use of presidential signing statements to indicate disapproval of enacted legislation has generated confusion and has undermined congressional oversight of national defense policy, the House Armed Services Committee said in a report this week (pdf).

One problem is that the Bush White House often fails to articulate the basis of its objections or their specific application in practice, the report said, terming White House objections “broad and unsubstantiated.”

“The functionality of a signing statement is greatly reduced if it is too vague to identify the concerns of the President and the interpretation of the law that the President is trying to convey to the executive branch,” the Committee report said.

Yet in issuing a signing statement indicating constitutional reservations about portions of the FY2008 defense authorization act, the President did not even identify all of the provisions that he found objectionable, the report said.

“While presidents have issued signing statements for quite some time, this President has issued a significantly larger percentage of signing statements challenging or objecting to various provisions of the law.”

“Signing statements may, if used appropriately, serve a legitimate function as a tool for continuing dialog between the President, Congress, and the public. On the other hand, signing statements may be a mechanism to expand executive authority at the expense of the legislature,” the Committee report said.

The report identified options for improving oversight, such as using signing statements as a roadmap for targeted oversight of particular provisions opposed by the Administration, and introducing legislating to require formal notification of agency refusal to implement particular statutes.

See “Presidential Signing Statements,” Findings of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, House Armed Services Committee, August 18.

The Committee held a hearing on signing statements, referenced in the new report, on March 11. Prepared testimony from that hearing is available here.

3 thoughts on “White House Signing Statements “Unsubstantiated,” Report Says

  1. The report omits to mention an incredibly important detail about signing statements.

    As the report states, they can be used to indicate that the President finds the legislation to be ambiguous in some way and to tell Congress which way he (or, one day, she) intends to interpret the ambiguity until and unless Congress amends the legislation to remove the ambiguity. If Congress does not amend the legislation it implicitly accepts the President’s interpretation; of Congress amends the legislation and resolves the ambiguity in the opposite way to that chosen by the President, the President must then comply. So far, so good.

    The report also states that a signing statement can be used to negate Congress’s wishes. What it omits to state is that Congress then has options which it is then constitutionally REQUIRED to take:

    1st step: informal talk with President asking him to withdraw the signing statement (or sign another statement renouncing the first, or whatever the legal procedure is)· The Constitution does not require this but common sense and common courtesy dictate an informal approach first.

    2nd step, taken in the event that the 1st step is ignored: pass an amendment stating in no uncertain terms that the objectionable clauses in the signing statement are illegal and that the President absolutely must follow the intent of the original bill. The Constitution does not require this, never having anticipated signing statements, and this step could therefore be skipped. Again, common sense and common courtesy dictate that Congress assume the President is acting out of good intentions until proven otherwise.

    3rd step, taken in the event that the 2nd step is ignored: IMPEACHMENT.

    It is the constitutional DUTY of Congress to impeach a President who does not fully uphold legislation passed by Congress, for only Congress has the power to enact legislation and only the Supreme Court has the power to decree legislation to be unconstitutional (but Congress then has the power to amend the Constitution, with the consent of the various states). The President’s ONLY power is to veto a bill IN ITS ENTIRETY, but there are procedures by which Congress (with sufficient votes) can over-ride the veto.

    If the President chooses to ignore part of a bill he is as much a criminal as if you or I choose to ignore it. It is STILL illegal if the President does it, no matter what Nixon said and Cheney continues to believe.

    Impeachment is the only cure for Cheney and his sock-puppet turning the US into a fascist dictatorship. And there are so many high crimes and misdemeanours they could be impeached for. Such a long list that it would be shorter to list all the activities they have performed which are not impeachable – in Bush’s case taking a nap, picking a fight with a pretzel and picking his nose are the only three that spring to mind. In Cheney’s case breathing is the only one, and even that is debatable.

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