On Monday of this week, President
Barack Obama issued an order to the Executive Branch that all
presidential signing statements issued by the Bush Administration are
to be ignored unless specifically instructed by Attorney General
Eric Holder. Obama said that the move was necessary because of the Bush
Administration's abuse of the practice. The president sought to set a
new standard for his Administration, saying that he would not use
signing statements, "to undermine the will of Congress."
That was Monday.
On Wednesday, however, President Obama issued his first signing statement on the $410 billion omnibus appropriations bill that he signed into law. In that signing statement, the president broke his own short-lived standard, expressly overturning the will of Congress and claiming that his Administration could simply ignore several provisions of the new law.
The provisions that the president invalidated with his signing statement mostly have to do with powers of the president that the Administration wants to protect. Obama rejected a provision that would have restricted funding for United Nations peacekeeping missions in which U.S. troops would be placed under a foreign commander. He interpreted another not to interfere with his authority as president to prevent Executive Branch officials from divulging privileged information to Congress. And he said a third provision directing negotiations with foreign governments could be ignored. In all these cases, it was Congress' intent to regulate Executive Branch activities that President Obama chose to undermine. Democrats decried the Bush Administration's use of signing statements for much the same reason.
President Obama appears to be on sound legal ground with his rejection of the provisions mentioned. That is not the issue. But on the issuance of signing statements themselves, the president went back on his word. This marks the second time in his young Administration when President Obama waived or violated an order in the same week it was announced. The president either needs to take more time to deliberate the ramifications of his orders, or he needs to follow the orders he issues. Otherwise, he risks being branded as a political opportunist at best, and a hypocrite at worst.
During the presidential campaign, candidate Obama was much more emphatic about signing statements, pledging not to use them at all, on any bill. Chalk this up, then as another campaign promise broken.