- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The White House yesterday defended President Bush’s right to set limits on the scope of congressional bills he signs into law, saying the Constitution grants the executive broad powers and requires the president to uphold the law.

“The president does not, and the administration does not, refuse to carry out the laws that have been passed by Congress and signed into law by the president,” White House press secretary Tony Snow said.

“In the context of trying to preserve and protect and defend the Constitution, there will be times, there will be places within signing statements, caveats, where he has reservations about” a bill he is signing into law, he said.

Mr. Snow said it is not unusual for presidents “to list those reservations, if nothing else, as markers, for issues that may later rise to be points of controversy.”

Mr. Bush has used the constitutional statements — about 110 in all, Mr. Snow said — to interpret bills passed by Congress. The statements have no power in courts, which are the final arbiters on issues that arise between the interpretation offered by Congress and the interpretation of the executive branch.

Shortly after Mr. Snow defended the practice, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter held a hearing on Mr. Bush’s use of signing statements.

“There is a sense that the president has taken signing statements far beyond the customary purview,” said Mr. Specter, Pennsylvania Republican. “It’s a challenge to the plain language of the Constitution.”

Democrats at the hearing sought to broaden the issue, complaining that Mr. Bush’s signing statements are just the latest example of the administration’s expansion of executive power.

“I believe that this new use of signing statements is a means to undermine and weaken the law,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. “If the president is going to have the power to nullify all or part of a statute, it should only be through veto authority that the president has authorized and can reject — rather than through a unilateral action taken outside the structures of our democracy.”

But Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said courts routinely look to the legislature for its intent, not to the executive branch. “The president is entitled to express his opinion. It’s the courts that determine what the law is,” he said. “I don’t know why the issue of presidents issuing signing statements is controversial at all.”

Mr. Snow said yesterday that former President Bill Clinton employed the tactic 105 times during his two terms.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Michelle Boardman said in yesterday’s hearing that “presidents are sworn to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,’ and thus are responsible for ensuring that the manner in which they enforce acts of Congress is consistent with America’s founding document.”

Sometimes, that includes the president telling Congress that a facet of a statute appears unconstitutional and that he will avoid possible constitutional conflicts, she said. In addition, the statements are not attempts to “cherry pick” among the parts of an enacted law that the president will choose to follow, she said.

“Presidential signing statements are, rather, a statement by the president explaining his interpretation of and responsibilities under the law, and they are therefore an essential part of the constitutional dialogue between the branches,” Miss Boardman said.

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