President Bush agreed with great fanfare last month to accept a ban on torture, but he later quietly reserved the right to ignore it, even as he signed it into law.
Acting from the seclusion of his Texas ranch at the start of New Year’s weekend, Bush said he would interpret the new law in keeping with his expansive view of presidential power. He did it by issuing a bill-signing statement — a little-noticed device that has become a favorite tool of presidential power in the Bush White House.
In fact, Bush has used signing statements to reject, revise or put his spin on more than 500 legislative provisions. Experts say he has been far more aggressive than any previous president in using the statements to claim sweeping executive power — and not just on national security issues.
“It’s nothing short of breathtaking,” said Phillip Cooper, a professor of public administration at Portland State University. “In every case, the White House has interpreted presidential authority as broadly as possible, interpreted legislative authority as narrowly as possible and pre-empted the judiciary.”
And here is the WaPo story on signing statements:
The Bush administration “has very effectively expanded the scope and character of the signing statement not only to address specific provisions of legislation that the White House wishes to nullify, but also in an effort to significantly reposition and strengthen the powers of the presidency relative to the Congress,” Cooper wrote in the September issue. “This tour d’ force has been carried out in such a systematic and careful fashion that few in Congress, the media, or the scholarly community are aware that anything has happened at all.”
Given that the reporters on the Times story, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, wrote that nearly a dozen current and former officials had served as their sources, there may be more leaks to come, and not just to The Times. Sooner or later we’ll find out what the White House is really so defensive about.