Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Good Questions

to ask about Bush's "signing statements":
For the White House

Q. What do these signing statements mean?

Q. What effect have they had? For instance, how do these signing statements translate into internal executive-branch memos?

Q. What precisely is the White House saying about the limits of executive power, if any, and the relationship between Article I and Article II of the Constitution?

Q. What exactly do White House lawyers mean by “unitary executive”?

Q. What does it mean when the president says things like “the executive branch shall construe section so-and-so in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President”? Should that be construed as notice that he plans to ignore it? Likewise when he says a provision will be construed in a manner “consistent with my constitutional authority in the area of foreign affairs” or “consistent with my constitutional duty as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces”?

Q. When the president says the “Executive Branch shall construe as advisory certain provisions” of a law, does that mean he will ignore them? Will he let Congress know if he does so?

Q. From the president's perspective, how does the practice of issuing signing statements fit with the constitutional separation of powers? Why does the President think he can choose which laws to uphold? (Deb Junod, Eagan, Minn.)

Q. Why is it wrong for the judiciary to redefine the law but right for the President? Or: why is "activist judge" bad but "signing statement" good? Or: how is it a problem if the judicial branch takes power from the legislative, but not a problem if the executive branch takes power from the legislative? (Jonathan Krueger, Pleasanton, Calif.)

Q. Are there any statutes currently on the books whose express provisions the Administration is violating, or declining to enforce, in reliance on "signing statements" or the "inherent powers" of the presidency, whether as commander in chief or otherwise? If so, do the American people have a right to know what are they? Does Congress? Will you provide us a list? (Vince Canzoneri, Boston)

Q. Why make a big show of trying to get lawmakers to reach compromises with the White House on legislation (see John McCain's anti-torture legislation) if he's then going to append a signing statement proclaiming that there's no need for him to observe the very law he just signed? Why bother going through the motions at all? (Lou Morin, Freeport, Maine)

For Members of Congress

Q. How do members of Congress feel about the president saying he can ignore their laws when he unilaterally deems them an encroachment on his executive power?

Q. Who in Congress is monitoring this issue?

Q. Are committee staff in a position to actually monitor these statements and track what is and isn’t happening as a result of these statements?

Q. For members whose bills have passed both Houses, been signed by the president, then been qualified with a signing statement: As part of your oversight plan, have you identified any mechanism for following up on presidential declarations about your statutes? How can you be sure your statutes are being followed?

For Congressional Candidates

Q. Will you be willing to use Congress’s traditional mechanisms to force answers from the executive – issuing subpoenas and threatening to reduce appropriations – to determine how signing statements are affecting laws passed by Congress? Will you sue the president if he refuses to say?

Q. When you’re on a committee, will you call for hearings and insist that representatives from the executive branch explain, for each signing statement attached to a bill from your committee, what the president meant, and what he intends to do about it?

Q. When you’re on a committee, what do you intend to do from this point forward to make sure not just that the agencies are doing their jobs, but that the agencies are being given the proper direction from the White House?