News Release

Bush’s Signing Statements: Suppressing the Power of Congress?


Savage is Justice Department correspondent for the Boston Globe. In a piece published Friday headlined “Bush Shuns Patriot Act Requirement,” Savage reported: “When President Bush signed the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act this month, he included an addendum saying that he did not feel obliged to obey requirements that he inform Congress about how the FBI was using the act’s expanded police powers.”

Savage added: “Bush signed the bill with fanfare at a White House ceremony March 9, calling it ‘a piece of legislation that’s vital to win the war on terror and to protect the American people.’ But after the reporters and guests had left, the White House quietly issued a ‘signing statement,’ an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law.

“In the statement, Bush said that he did not consider himself bound to tell Congress how the Patriot Act powers were being used and that, despite the law’s requirements, he could withhold the information if he decided that disclosure would ‘impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive’s constitutional duties.'”
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Van Bergen has written about the Bush administration’s use of signing statements in her articles “Scholar says Bush has used obscure doctrine to extend power 95 times” and “The Unitary Executive: Is the Doctrine Behind the Bush Presidency Consistent with a Democratic State?”

She said today: “In signing the Patriot Act renewal into law, President Bush has yet again issued a signing statement in which he suggests he will ignore provisions that require submission to congressional oversight. Bush relies on his unorthodox theory of the ‘unitary executive’ — which really is a ‘unilateral executive theory’ — to withhold information from Congress. He issued a similar signing statement on signing the McCain bill prohibiting torture, declaring he could bypass the law if he felt it necessary.

“The Department of Justice has followed Bush’s lead by urging courts not to second-guess decisions of the president. But it is becoming clearer every day that Bush has no qualms about violating either international laws and obligations or domestic laws. The recent revelations about the secret NSA domestic surveillance program revealed Bush flagrantly violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which was specifically enacted to prevent unchecked executive branch surveillance.”

Van Bergen, who wrote the book The Twilight of Democracy: The Bush Plan for America, added: “Instead of openly objecting to provisions and working with Congress in good faith to make changes, or vetoing a law, which would allow the Congress to override the veto, Bush is again sneaking around the laws, playing the savior while thumbing his nose at and actually undermining the efforts of this largely Republican Congress.

“Bush’s use of signing statements to undermine and avoid duly passed laws is an attempt to suppress the power of Congress. In some signing statements, he has even declared his intent to evade or restrict judicial oversight. His signing statements, thus, are nothing short of an attempt to change the very face of our government and our country.”

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167