In marked contrast to vows as a candidate not to use presidential signing statements as “an end run around Congress,” President Obama released a statement on the just-signed spending bill saying despite the law’s restrictions on “czars,” he will “construe” the law not to interfere with “presidential prerogatives.”
The move is an aggressive power play by Obama to gain an added advantage from the deal struck a week ago between the president, Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to narrowly avert government shutdown.
The legislation prohibits government money being spent on four Obama “czars,” newly created positions with far-reaching sway over federal agencies but facing no confirmation vote in the Senate.
However, some of the czars banned in the bill have already stepped down, and it is unclear whether replacements will be appointed.
Obama in his signing statement says the provision in the legislation prohibiting funding for the salaries of the four czars runs afoul of the president’s “well-established authority to supervise and oversee the executive branch, and to obtain advice in furtherance of this supervisory authority.”
The signing statement vaguely refers to an constitutional line that might have been crossed.
“Legislative efforts that significantly impede the President’s ability to exercise his supervisory and coordinating authorities or to obtain the views of the appropriate senior advisers violate the separation of powers by undermining the President’s ability to exercise his constitutional responsibilities and take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” the statement says.
“Therefore, the executive branch will construe section 2262 not to abrogate these Presidential prerogatives,” the statement says.
A spokesman for Boehner, Michael Steel, said “It’s not surprising that the White House, having bypassed Congress to empower these ‘Czars’ is objecting to eliminating them.”
As a candidate for president in 2008, Obama blasted former President George W. Bush for his aggressive use of signing statements to alter how laws would be implemented after he signed them.
“Congress’s job is to pass legislation. The president can veto it, or he can sign it. But 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,’” Obama said.
“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’s going along. I disagree with that. I taught the Constitution for ten 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,” Obama said.
The signing statement on the spending bill, H.R. 1473, also contains a long section on the law’s provisions on Guantanamo Bay, which generally ban Obama from closing the prison there.
Obama says in the statement the provisions could harm “national security” by interfering with “delicate negotiations.”
However, rather than assert presidential power to invalidate those parts of the law, the signing statement only says Obama will work to repeal them and will seek to “mitigate their effects.”
Statement by the President on H.R. 1473
Today I have signed into law H.R. 1473, the “Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011”.
Section 1112 of the Act bars the use of funds for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 to transfer Guantanamo detainees into the United States, and section 1113 bars the use of funds for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 to transfer detainees to the custody or effective control of foreign countries unless specified conditions are met. Section 1112 represents the continuation of a dangerous and unprecedented challenge to critical executive branch authority to determine when and where to prosecute Guantanamo detainees, based on the facts and the circumstances of each case and our national security interests. The prosecution of terrorists in Federal court is a powerful tool in our efforts to protect the Nation and must be among the options available to us. Any attempt to deprive the executive branch of that tool undermines our Nation’s counterterrorism efforts and has the potential to harm our national security.
With respect to section 1113 of the Act, the restrictions on the transfer of detainees to the custody or effective control of foreign countries interfere with the authority of the executive branch to make important and consequential foreign policy and national security determinations regarding whether and under what circumstances such transfers should occur in the context of an ongoing armed conflict. We must have the ability to act swiftly and to have broad flexibility in conducting our negotiations with foreign countries. The executive branch has sought and obtained from countries that are prospective recipients of Guantanamo detainees assurances that they will take or have taken measures reasonably designed to be effective in preventing, or ensuring against, returned detainees taking action to threaten the United States or engage in terrorist activities. Consistent with existing statutes, the executive branch has kept the Congress informed about these assurances and notified the Congress prior to transfers. Requiring the executive branch to certify to additional conditions would hinder the conduct of delicate negotiations with foreign countries and therefore the effort to conclude detainee transfers in accord with our national security.
Despite my continued strong objection to these provisions, I have signed this Act because of the importance of avoiding a lapse in appropriations for the Federal Government, including our military activities, for the remainder of fiscal year 2011.
Nevertheless, my Administration will work with the Congress to seek repeal of these restrictions, will seek to mitigate their effects, and will oppose any attempt to extend or expand them in the future.
Section 2262 of the Act would prohibit the use of funds for several positions that involve providing advice directly to the President. The President has well-established authority to supervise and oversee the executive branch, and to obtain advice in furtherance of this supervisory authority. The President also has the prerogative to obtain advice that will assist him in carrying out his constitutional responsibilities, and do so not only from executive branch officials and employees outside the White House, but also from advisers within it.
Legislative efforts that significantly impede the President’s ability to exercise his supervisory and coordinating authorities or to obtain the views of the appropriate senior advisers violate the separation of powers by undermining the President’s ability to exercise his constitutional responsibilities and take care that the laws be faithfully executed. Therefore, the executive branch will construe section 2262 not to abrogate these Presidential prerogatives.