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Can Congress Keep President Obama out of the Twilight Zone?


Jonathan Weisman writes for tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal:

As a candidate, Mr. Obama vowed that he wouldn’t abuse the presidential signing statement, a declaration issued by the president when he signs a bill to give his interpretation of that law. President George W. Bush used so many signing statements — more than 750 — that the American Bar Association criticized it as an abuse of power.

After Mr. Obama’s issuance of his second signing statement last month, even some Democrats say he isn’t keeping his word on reining in unilateral presidential actions.

“Of course there’s a broader issue here,” said House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D., Mass.), referring to the brewing battles with Mr. Obama over presidential prerogative. “It’s outrageous. It’s exactly what the Bush people did.”

Oooooh! Barney may have to be called to the Oval Office for another charm injection. It sounds like the last one is wearing off.

On June 24, Obama issued a signing statement claiming that he did not have to follow the limitations on funds that Congress appropriated for the World bank and International Monetary Fund. Incensed,

The House rebuked President Obama for trying to ignore restrictions to international aid payments, voting overwhelmingly for an amendment forcing the administration to abide by its constraints.

House members approved an amendment by a 429-2 vote to have the Obama administration pressure the World Bank to strengthen labor and environmental standards and require a Treasury Department report on World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) activities.

Back to the WSJ article:

In a letter slated for delivery on Wednesday, Mr. Frank, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D., Wis.), and New York Democratic Reps. Nita Lowey and Gregory Meeks will inform the president that if he issues another signing statement on IMF and World Bank funding, Congress will cut off the funds he wants.

Interestingly, Sonia Sotomayor was asked about presidential signing statements in her Senate Confirmation Hearing today. Senator Diane Feinstein asked Sotomayor if it is Constitutional for Presidents to refuse to enforce certain parts of laws passed by Congress. Her response:

Justice Jackson, in his concurrence in the Youngstown steel seizure case, and that involved President Truman’s seizures of steel factories” — that was a 1952 case in which the court dealt a stinging rebuke to what it considered to be Truman’s executive overreach — “there, Justice Jackson … says that you always have to look at assertions by the president that he or she is acting within executive power in the context of what Congress has done or not done…. First, you look at, has Congress expressly addressed or authorized the president to act a certain way.” If so, she said, “then he is acting at his highest stature of power. If the president is acting in prohibition of an expressed or implied act of Congress, then he is working at his lowest ebb.

“If he is acting where Congress hasn’t spoken, then he is acting in what Justice Jackson called ‘the zone of twilight.’ ”

She concluded: “You can’t speak more specifically than that… Other than to say, a president can’t act in violation of the Constitution. No one’s above the law.”

Okay, so is it Constitutional for the President to be in the twilight zone? Sotomayor didn’t quite commit herself on that one.

32 Responses

  1. I think we should officially change Obama’s title to President God. Perhaps P-God for a catchy nic, seeing as how he’s the “cool” prez.

  2. Why didn’t the Dems do this to Bush after 2006, once they were in the majority?

    • Yes. How do they have the guts to threaten Obama but they just rolled over for whatever Bush did? It just makes no sense.

      • Yes, but they made a little noise before they rolled over, so as to look good for the folks back home without actually doing anything. Which is exactly what they will do here.

        They know Obama’s polls are down, and mid-terms are coming up, so they are hedging their bets so as to not appear to be too completely his sycophantic minions.

  3. boston i think that O came from the Twilight Zone. so why would he want to leave?

  4. Mark my words, the Dems will find a way to back down on any real pressure on Obama.

  5. Keep Obama out of the zone of twilight and put Biden in the cone of silence.

  6. Do all law types talk so noncommitally or is it that SCOTUS candidates are rehearsed to not say too much? At least, Sotomayor seems to be more definitive than Alito or Roberts.

    • SCOTUS nominees are coached to be as noncommittal as possible on any subject. It’s how the confirmation game is played.

    • Sotomayor made the “wise Latina” comment -5 times! Not once – but 5 times! and never regretted it.
      Not once – did it ever occur to Sotomayor that her comment was UNWISE.

  7. Weissmen should get his facts straight. The truth is bad enough. Bush only had about 140 signing statements, not 750. See here for a complete list: http://www.coherentbabble.com/listGWBall.htm

    Glad you wrote about this, BB. I heard this segment of the Sotomayor hearing today and immediately wondered about Obama and signing statements.

    • Charlie Savage wrote in 2006 that Bush claimed the right to ignore all or parts of 750 laws. Maybe that’s where the number came from?

      • Anna Belle — in the article he is actually referring to the number of constitutional challenges contained within the signing statements. One signing statement can have many challenges to various sections. Sometimes people writing on this subject just get sloppy with the way they talk about things…

        He had 750 challenges by the time that the 2006 Savage article was written and according to Christopher Kelley’s website he had 1168 challenges by the end of his two terms.

  8. All together now: Obama = Bush

  9. Sotomayor: >>>>If he is acting where Congress hasn’t spoken, then he is acting in what Justice Jackson called ‘the zone of twilight.’ ”

    Has Congress spoken on this?
    Did they “speak” on this after learning of Bush’s zillion presidential signing statements?

  10. OT, this Anti-Sotomayor ad is beyond ridiculous–

    • Since when is filing legal briefs and suits ‘terrorist’ actions? Did Rush fall off the wagon? Are they inhaling their glue? The Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund is a Civil Rights organization. The GOP has lost their barrings!

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