Obama Again Uses 'Signing Statement' Tactic He Promised Not to Use in 2008; Press Yawns

In August 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama pledged, as paraphrased in a New York Times story, "not to use signing statements to undermine legislation passed by Congress," and "called Mr. Bush’s frequent use of such statements an abuse of his power."

On Wednesday, Obama issued another signing statement — there have now been over 30 during his presidential tenure — to put a thumb in Israel's eye, and to give aid and comfort to the misguided international anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement. The establishment press is minimizing its exposure of Obama's move, and, as usual, utterly failing to note Obama's about-face on signing statements since he took office.

The Associated Press's Kevin Freking buried news of the signing statement in the eleventh and final paragraph of a story which headlined Obama's signing of a "bill extending privacy protections to allies":

Although Obama signed the bill, the White House took issue with a provision opposing the movement to boycott Israeli products in protest of Israel's occupation of the West Bank. Certain provisions of the bill lump together Israel and Israel-controlled territories, "contrary to longstanding bipartisan United States policy," Obama said in a signing statement. Obama added that his administration will implement the bill in a "manner that does not interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct diplomacy."

A second AP story by Richard Lardner noted congressional pushback against Obama's signing statement, but frames it primarily as coming from Democrats:

Senate Democrats have opened a rare public feud with President Barack Obama over a congressional effort to discourage America's trading partners from targeting Israel with politically motivated boycotts and sanctions.

Minority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats voiced their objections to Obama's decision not to implement provisions in a trade law that instructs U.S. negotiators to protect Israel from being punished economically for its treatment of Palestinians.

House Speaker Paul Ryan also criticized Obama and said Congress would use its power of oversight to ensure the provisions are enforced.

"Only this administration would try not to enforce a trade enforcement law," the Wisconsin Republican said Friday.

Specifically, the provision instructs U.S. negotiators to resist other countries' actions that support the "boycott, divestment and sanctions" movement, known as BDS. The senators said the movement tracks with growing anti-Semitism around the world.

Obama is opposed to the boycott movement and has pledged to fight it "as long as I am president."

But his administration took issue with part of the bill that it said conflates Israel with "Israeli-controlled territories."

Lardner's focus on Democrats is interesting, given that the bill would never have passed without the support of Republicans who control both houses of Congress, and who in this rare instance acted as if they did.

So Obama "is opposed to the boycott movement." However, at the same time, he and his diplomats would recognize the legitimacy of the notion that Israel should do anything constructive like house people or make useful things in territories it won fair and square after it was attacked without provocation in 1967.

Adam Kredo at the Washington Free Beacon noted that the administration's objections to the trade bill just before it passed were anti-Israel at their very core:

The president’s rejection of these provisions comes two weeks after the White House issued a separate statement expressing support for every provision of the trade bill except for those focusing on strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Well, that's because the administration isn't interested in "strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship."

At the Washington Post's Volokh Conspiracy blog, Eugene Kontorovich summed things up nicely:

... the hollow signing statement is more a venting of pique — that the Israel provisions were put into a bill too big to veto — than constitutional principle.

The AP's attempt to spin objections as primarily coming from Democrats comes off as free electioneering on behalf of the party's eventual presidential nominee.

This afternoon, Jazz Shaw at Hot Air got to the essence of the candidate Obama/Presidnet Obama signing statement hypocrisy:

Well, the bill made it to the President’s desk and he signed it, but not without adding his own poison pill in a signing statement saying that he opposed those Anti-BDS provisions and would not enforce them.

... here’s Obama on the stump during that campaign taking a specific question on the use of presidential signing statements. I think you’ll agree that it’s fairly unambiguous.

"... What George Bush has been trying to do as part of his effort to accumulate more power in the presidency is, he’s been saying, well I can basically change what Congress passed by attaching a letter saying I don’t agree with this part or I don’t agree with that part. I’m going to choose to interpret it this way or that way. That’s not part of his power."

That’s not part of his power, Mr. President, but it clearly seems to be part of yours. Funny how that whole power thing works, isn’t it?

The New York Times has no in-house story on Obama's move, and is only carrying the two AP stories at its web site (here and here), with no indication that either ever appeared in its print edition. The roughly 25 relevant items found in a Google News search on "Obama signing statement" (not in quotes, sorted by date, without duplicates), which includes the blog items discussed here, is hardly a ripple in the vast ocean of other news.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.