Obama May Issue 'Signing Statement' On Bill Forbidding Gitmo Detainees to Be Brought Stateside; WaPo Places Story on Page A8
The "White House is constantly grabbing for more power, seeking to drive the people's branch of government to the sidelines," Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) thundered in June 2007 following a report on President Bush's use of "signing statements."
"The administration is thumbing its nose at the law," Rep. John Conyers agreed, as noted at the time by the Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman.
Signing statements made their way into the presidential campaign, with then-candidate Obama telling voters that "We’re not going to use signing statements to do an end run around Congress."
Now three years later, congressional Republicans are concerned President Obama may do just that as regards a law Obama will sign which prohibits transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay stateside for trial.
The Washington Post has the story, but placed it at the bottom of page A8. What's more, writers Peter Finn and Anne Kornblut failed to mention that then-Senator Obama was critical of President George W. Bush for his alleged misuse of signing statements (emphasis mine):
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The White House may challenge the authority of Congress to bar detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from trial in federal courts in the United States, according to administration officials.
A provision in the defense spending bill, which was passed in December, prevents the administration from transferring any detainee to the United States for any purpose. The bill also prevents the administration from purchasing a state prison in the United States to replace the facility in Cuba, and it places new restrictions on the transfer of detainees who have been cleared for release by an interagency review panel.
White House officials said they are discussing the possible merits of issuing a signing statement when President Obama signs the defense bill, but cautioned that no final decision has been made and that it may not challenge every Guantanamo provision. At a minimum, the statement would assert that Congress has wrongly intruded on the executive branch's discretion to decide on the appropriate venue to prosecute terrorism suspects, officials said.
President George W. Bush, who issued more signing statements than any other president, was criticized by some legal scholars, including current members of the Obama administration, for using signing statements to circumvent the constitutional separation of powers.
The administration has long said that it wants to use a combination of federal courts and military commissions to prosecute some detainees as part of its overall goal of closing the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
About 36 of the remaining 174 detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been slated for prosecution, but the administration ran into fierce political opposition from both Democrats and Republicans after it said it wanted to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
A signing statement is likely to spark fresh political conflict with Congress over the future of Guantanamo Bay.
"President Obama is wrong on multiple counts," said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), the incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. "First, after criticizing President Bush so strongly for issuing signing statements, it would be totally hypocritical of him do the same thing when it suits his own ideological purpose. Second, the American people made it clear they don't want Guantanamo detainees in the United States, and they don't want 9/11 trials in the United States."
If Obama elects to include a signing statement, it won't be the first time in his presidency as the Wall Street Journal has noted.
From the March 12, 2009 edition of the Journal (emphasis mine):
Democrats often criticized the Bush White House for its use of the presidential signing statement, a means by which the president can reject provisions of a bill he deems unconstitutional without vetoing the entire legislation. Now the approach is back.
President Barack Obama, after signing into law a $410 billion budget bill on Wednesday, declared five provisions in the bill to be unconstitutional and non-binding, including one that would effectively restrict U.S. troop deployments under U.N. command and another aimed at preventing punishment of whistleblowers.
The move came two days after Mr. Obama ordered a review of his predecessor's signing statements and said he would rein in the use of such declarations.
"As I announced this past Monday, it is a legitimate constitutional function, and one that promotes the value of transparency, to indicate when a bill that is presented for Presidential signature includes provisions that are subject to well-founded constitutional objections," Mr. Obama said in the statement.
Democrats, and some Republicans, complained that former President George W. Bush abused the signing statement by declaring that he would ignore congressional intent on more than 1,200 sections of bills, easily a record. Critics at the time said that if the president had constitutional questions, he should veto the bill and demand a correction.
Mr. Bush's successor showed Wednesday that he isn't averse to using the same methods.
"We're having a repeat of what Democrats bitterly complained about under President Bush," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R, Pa.), who drafted legislation to nullify Mr. Bush's signing statements. He added that if Mr. Obama "wants to pick a fight, Congress has plenty of authority to retaliate."