- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2017

Like his two immediate predecessors, President Trump signed a massive spending bill into law Friday by adding caveats in a “signing statement” that asserts his authority against the wishes of Congress on issues ranging from enforcement of medical marijuana laws to following through on minority business carveouts.

In the statement accompanying a $1.1 trillion spending bill, Mr. Trump singled out provisions aimed at historically black colleges and at minority business development, saying he would only implement them so far as they were “consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the laws under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.”

He didn’t elaborate on that, but Democrats on Capitol Hill bristled.

Trump’s statement is not only misinformed factually, it is not grounded in any serious constitutional analysis,” said Reps. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan and Cedric L. Richmond of Louisiana, two leading black Democrats. “For a president who pledged to reach out to African-Americans and other minorities, this statement is stunningly careless and divisive.”

Johnny Taylor Jr., president and chief executive of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said in a statement that the administration assured the fund that there was “absolutely no plan to eliminate or challenge” the loan program for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

“We have shared with the White House our assertion that the HBCU program is not at all a race-based government effort and therefore doesn’t raise any equal protection or due process concerns because participation in the program is limited to HBCUs,” Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Trump in his statement also questioned a provision in the law that bars the Justice Department from using funds “to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories.”

Mr. Trump said, “I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

That appears to be in line with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ comments that he opposes the “expanded use” of marijuana. A White House spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.

Michael Collins, deputy director of Drug Policy Alliance, said Mr. Trump “continues to send mixed messages on marijuana.”

“After stating during the campaign that he was ‘100 percent’ in support of medical marijuana, he now issues a signing statement casting doubt on whether his administration will adhere to a congressional rider that stops DOJ from going after medical marijuana programs,” Mr. Collins said. “The uncertainty is deeply disconcerting for patients and providers, and we urge the administration to clarify their intentions immediately.”

Twenty-eight states have some form of medical marijuana, but the drug is illegal under federal law.

The spending bill’s provision on medical marijuana prevents the Justice Department from arresting or prosecuting patients, caregivers and businesses that are acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. The measure will only be binding through the end of September.

Mr. Trump noted that another provision in the spending bill restricting the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to foreign countries “does not include an exception for when a court might order the release of a detainee to certain countries.”

“I will treat these, and similar provisions, consistently with my constitutional authority as commander in chief,” Mr. Trump said.

Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush issued dozens of “signing statements” spelling out areas where they disagreed with congressional intent in various legislation, and asserting their executive authority to carry out the law as they saw fit.

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