The White House is disputing any notion that President Obama broke a campaign promise by using a signing statement to ignore Congress’ attempt to defund the positions of four so-called administration czars.
The President in the early evening on Friday — a time notorious for news dumps — raised reporters’ and his critics hackles by adding a signing statement to the resolution that funds the federal government through September and avoids a government shutdown. The signing statement suggests Obama would ignore some parts of the deal, including language defunding the czars overseeing healthcare, climate change, the auto industry and urban affairs. Republicans have long lambasted Obama’s use of czars, senior presidential advisers on major issues who do not require Senate confirmation.
But White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday argued that Obama was not breaking a campaign pledge because he never said he would abstain from using them completely.
“He never said he was opposed to signing statements,” Carney told reporters at a briefing. “He’s always said the President must retain the right to use signing statements. … Jis concern was with what he saw was abuse of the signing statement [practice] by the previous administration,” he said.
During his two terms in office, Bush issued hundreds of controversial signing statements, and Obama on the campaign trail in 2008, slammed him for doing so. In response to a question, Obama said he would not use signing statements and said Bush’s abuse of the practice typified his efforts “to accumulate more power in the presidency.”
“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 goes along,” Obama said. “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.”
Carney referred reporters to a 2007 interview Obama gave to then-Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage who won a Pulitzer Prize that year for his reporting on Bush’s use of signing statements.
In that interview, Obama said that signing statements have “been used by presidents of both parties, dating back to Andrew Jackson.”
“While it is legitimate for a president to issue a signing statement to clarify his understanding of ambiguous provisions of statutes and to explain his view of how he intends to faithfully execute the law, it is a clear abuse of power to use such statements as a license to evade laws that the President does not like or as an end-run around provisions designed to foster accountability,” Obama told the Globe.
The problem with the way Bush handled signing statements, Obama said, is that he used them to try to change the meaning of the legislation and as a way to avoid enforcing particular provisions of the measures that he didn’t like or to raise “implausible or dubious” constitutional objections.
Bush’s use of signing statements 1,100 times was a “clear abuse of that prerogative,” he said.
“No one doubts that it is appropriate to use signing statements to protect a president’s constitutional prerogatives; unfortunately, the Bush Administration has gone much further than that,” Obama said.
On Friday Dana Perino, a White House press secretary under Bush, took to Twitter to complain about the media’s double standard in criticizing Bush’s use of signing statements while only mildly questioning Obama for exercising the same presidential prerogative.