Friday, October 06, 2006

Bush spits in Congress' Eye!

President Bush, in another signing statement, defied Congress' attempt to protect the FEMA nomination from croneyism like that which resulted in a Bush nominee failing to respond adequately to Hurricane Katrina. Charley Savage, at the Boston Globe writes here that

President Bush this week asserted that he has the executive authority to disobey a new law in which Congress has set minimum qualifications for future heads of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Congress passed the law last week as a response to FEMA's poor handling of Hurricane Katrina. The agency's slow response to flood victims exposed the fact that Michael Brown, Bush's choice to lead the agency, had been a politically connected hire with no prior experience in emergency management.

To shield FEMA from cronyism, Congress established new job qualifications for the agency's director in last week's homeland security bill. The law says the president must nominate a candidate who has ``a demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management" and ``not less than five years of executive leadership."

Bush signed the homeland-security bill on Wednesday morning. Then, hours later, he issued a signing statement saying he could ignore the new restrictions. Bush maintains that under his interpretation of the Constitution, the FEMA provision interfered with his power to make personnel decisions.

The law, Bush wrote, ``purports to limit the qualifications of the pool of persons from whom the president may select the appointee in a manner that rules out a large portion of those persons best qualified by experience and knowledge to fill the office."

The homeland-security bill contained measures covering a range of topics, including terrorism, disaster preparedness, and illegal immigration. One provision calls for authorizing the construction of a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border.

But Bush's signing statement challenged at least three-dozen laws specified in the bill. Among those he targeted is a provision that empowers the FEMA director to tell Congress about the nation's emergency management needs without White House permission. This law, Bush said, ``purports . . . to limit supervision of an executive branch official in the provision of advice to the Congress." Despite the law, he said, the FEMA director would be required to get clearance from the White House before telling lawmakers anything.

Bush said nothing of his objections when he signed the bill with a flourish in a ceremony Wednesday in Scottsdale, Ariz. At the time, he proclaimed that the bill was ``an important piece of legislation that will highlight our government's highest responsibility, and that's to protect the American people."

The bill, he added, ``will also help our government better respond to emergencies and natural disasters by strengthening the capabilities of the Federal Emergency Management Agency."

Bush's remarks at the signing ceremony were quickly e-mailed to reporters, and the White House website highlighted the ceremony. By contrast, the White House minimized attention to the signing statement. When asked by the Globe on Wednesday afternoon if there would be a signing statement, the press office declined to comment, saying only that any such document, if it existed, would be issued in the ``usual way."

The press office posted the signing-statement document on its website around 8 p.m. Wednesday, after most reporters had gone home. The signing statement was not included in news reports yesterday on the bill-signing.

The Globe article continues:

In the past, the administration has defended the legality of its signing statements. It has also argued that because Congress often lumps many laws into a single package, it is sometimes impractical to veto a large bill on the basis of some parts being flawed .

At a June hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a Bush administration attorney, Michelle Boardman , noted that other US presidents have also used signing statements. She asserted that Bush's statements ``are not an abuse of power."

Bush's use of signing statements has attracted increasing attention over the past year. In December 2005, Bush asserted that he can bypass a statutory ban on torture. In March 2006, the president said he can disobey oversight provisions in the Patriot Act reauthorization bill.

In all, Bush has challenged more than 800 laws enacted since he took office, most of which he said intruded on his constitutional powers as president and commander in chief. By contrast, all previous presidents challenged a combined total of about 600 laws.

At the same time, Bush has virtually abandoned his veto power, giving Congress no chance to override his judgments. Bush has vetoed just one bill since taking office, the fewest of any president since the 19th century.

Earlier this year, the American Bar Association declared that Bush's use of signing statements was ``contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional separation of powers."

Last month, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service concluded that Bush's signing statements are ``an integral part" of his ``comprehensive strategy to strengthen and expand executive power" at the expense of the legislative branch.

On the same day, the AP issued this article reporting on Bush's signing statement. The bill in question was HR 5441
Title: Making appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2007, and for other purposes. Became Public Law No: 109-295. Visit Thomas Website to search for the text of the Public Law, the bill, House Reports, and the signing statement. The AP report by Leslie Miller states
President Bush, again defying Congress, says he has the power to edit the Homeland Security Department's reports about whether it obeys privacy rules while handling background checks, ID cards and watchlists.

In the law Bush signed Wednesday, Congress stated no one but the privacy officer could alter, delay or prohibit the mandatory annual report on Homeland Security department activities that affect privacy, including complaints.

But Bush, in a signing statement attached to the agency's 2007 spending bill, said he will interpret that section "in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch."

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said it's appropriate for the administration to know what reports go to Congress and to review them beforehand.

"There can be a discussion on whether to accept a change or a nuance," she said. "It could be any number of things."

The American Bar Association and members of Congress have said Bush uses signing statements excessively as a way to expand his power.

The Senate held hearings on the issue in June. At the time, 110 statements challenged about 750 statutes passed by Congress, according to numbers combined from the White House and the Senate committee. They include documents revising or disregarding parts of legislation to ban torture of detainees and to renew the Patriot Act.

Privacy advocate Marc Rotenberg said Bush is trying to subvert lawmakers' ability to accurately monitor activities of the executive branch of government.

"The Homeland Security Department has been setting up watch lists to determine who gets on planes, who gets government jobs, who gets employed," said Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

He said the Homeland Security Department has the most significant impact on citizens' privacy of any agency in the federal government.

Homeland Security agencies check airline passengers' names against terrorist watch lists and detain them if there's a match. They make sure transportation workers' backgrounds are investigated. They are working on several kinds of biometric ID cards that millions of people would have to carry.

The department's privacy office has put the brakes on some initiatives, such as using insecure radio-frequency identification technology, or RFID, in travel documents. It also developed privacy policies after an uproar over the disclosure that airlines turned over their passengers' personal information to the government.

The last privacy report was submitted in February 2005.

Bush's signing statement Wednesday challenges several other provisions in the Homeland Security spending bill.

The article then mentions the FEMA director requirements that Charley Savage reported on. See also the Homeland Security agency website, which includes a short press release on the new law, but makes no mention of the Presidential Signing Statement. See earlier OOTJ posts with links about the signing statement issue March 24, 2006, May 22, 2006, May 5, 2006, and May 28, 2006. Here is a handy blog link for No More King George, which pulls together links for signing statements by President George W. Bush since 2001 to 2006 (so far). You can double check the correctness using Thomas' link above.

Excellent illustration of King W spying on U.S. citizens, from

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