March 9th, 2009
06:42 PM ET
11 years ago

Obama moves to limit impact of Bush signing statements

The president issued guidance Monday about the use of so-called presidential signing statements during his administration.

The president issued guidance Monday about the use of so-called presidential signing statements during his administration.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – In the latest of a series of moves intended to limit or reverse the policies of his predecessor, President Obama quietly issued a memorandum Monday that will likely limit the impact of the many legislative signing statements that became a bit of a trademark during former President George W. Bush’s tenure.

In the two-page memo, Obama makes the case both for and against presidential signing statements, the presidential practice of laying out constitutional and other legal concerns about a piece of legislation at the time the chief executive signs a bill into law.

“Constitutional signing statements should not be used to suggest that the President will disregard statutory requirements on the basis of policy disagreements,” Obama wrote in the memo.

“At the same time, such signing statements serve a legitimate function in our system, at least when based on well-founded constitutional objections. In appropriately limited circumstances, they represent an exercise of the President’s constitutional obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and they promote a healthy dialogue between the executive branch and the Congress.”

The memo then lays out four principles that will govern Obama’s use of signing statements: notifying Congress of his administration’s concerns about pending legislation; utilizing only “well-founded” interpretations of the Constitution; increasing transparency by laying out the administration’s constitutional concerns with specificity and avoiding constitutional problems by using only “legitimate” constitutional interpretations when possible.

On the basis of these principles, Obama directs his administration to seek guidance from Attorney General Eric Holder before relying on any presidential signing statement issued before Monday in order to disregard or refuse to comply with any provision of a federal statute.

The net effect of Obama’s directive is to prohibit his administration from utilizing any signing statements issued by George W. Bush – and any prior president – without first getting the okay from Holder.

“This President will use signing statements in order to go back to what has previously been done,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters in his daily briefing Monday. “And that is to enumerate constitutional problems that either the Justice Department or the - or legislative council here see as a potential problem through their reading, but not ask that laws be disallowed simply by executive fiat,” added Gibbs.

soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. Had It

    Turn around everything started in the "Bush Error".

    March 9, 2009 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  2. Marsha

    America! It should be clearer to you every day the lack of leadership under Bush and the abundance of blessed leadership under President Obama.

    March 9, 2009 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  3. Patty in the CA mountains

    Man, it's nice to have a brain in the oval office.....

    March 9, 2009 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  4. Obama's Legacy ... Civility Returns To America

    To all those how mockingly ask ... "so iwhere is the change we can believe in?"

    Answer ..... RIGHT HERE

    March 9, 2009 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  5. Cynthia - Arkansas

    President Obama has done SO much, in a short period of time, to overturn all of the disasterous policies of the last 8 years! It is so nice to have a dignified, smart man at the helm. I believe this will be the best administration this country has ever seen.

    God Bless President Obama and his beautiful family.

    March 9, 2009 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  6. Richie

    The problem is that we have no way of preventing the next George W from going back to the imperial presidency. We need W put in jail for treason.

    March 9, 2009 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  7. Its time for Jumpsuits and Handcuffs

    Lets start with the self pardon Bush wrote, shall we.No get out of jail free cards,if you or I could never get on,why should he?

    March 9, 2009 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  8. Tim

    Yes, those time are over...........

    Lets put those days behind us!

    March 9, 2009 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  9. Joe E.

    The President's reasoning and approach to this Mr. Bush's over extensive use of signing statements is a breath of fresh air. The STINK of the dictatorship of the last 8 years is slowly beginning to clear. I'd suggest that congress draft legislation to codify this interpretation of signing statements so that no future despot of the USA can use that particularly odious sleight of hand on the American people!

    Well done, Mr. Obama!

    March 9, 2009 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  10. J.L.

    It's things like this that makes me glad that we have Barack Obama as President... that he's changing back those things that the previous failure of a President a.k.a. George Walker Bush made that took our country in the wrong direction... Rule of Law is the key. Something that the previous administration seemed to disregard (or went along the lines of he who has the power, makes the rule).

    March 9, 2009 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  11. JT

    This is what Pres. Obama means about change. YES HE DID!!!!!!!!

    March 9, 2009 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  12. Steve

    One more sign that America is returning to the way it should be.

    March 9, 2009 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  13. Steve in Louisville

    Excellent! This was one of the most arrogant policies of the Bush administration. Good riddance.

    March 9, 2009 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  14. Willy Brown

    The socialist the media trys to cover for;#44

    March 9, 2009 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  15. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    Obama now needs to waste all kinds of time UNDOING moron Bush's last-minute efforts to ruin the country. Nothing will convince me that the rotten economy we now face was a purposeful maneuver on Bush's part (like the lies about WMD in Iraq) in an attempt to set up Obama for failure and a GOP president in 2012. It's exactly the same type of ploy. You can't tell me that even Bush and his idiot staff couldn't see this coming.....

    March 9, 2009 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  16. Henry Miller, Cary, NC

    A refreshing repudiation of the Bush it's-legal-if-the-President-says-so Imperial Presidency.

    March 9, 2009 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  17. Deb C

    Yeah! President Obama is moving ahead with speed. There is no ease on him of the complaints from those who are basically in fear of a bi-racial president running government. This is the loudest of the criticisms I have heard of a newly elected president ever. He has been in office two month, and Pres. Obama is suppose to make magical change of the mess that we have been in for years. The banking crisis is very touchy issue, but I really don't think that by just quickly providing monies to the bank will be the solution. We need innovative, long range planning and thinking in order for this issue to be resolved. I have developed and drafted policy, and know that it would be foolish for Pres. Obama to rush on policy to fixed this credit crisis.

    Boo- to those in the media and politics of hard knocks who are harsh, brutal and racist.

    March 9, 2009 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  18. SA in OO

    In many respects the Bush White House was as close as we have come to a theocracy in this country. If you know you are right because, well you just are, then you really don't need to worry much about "the law of the land." Sort of like the pope you are the law.

    March 9, 2009 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  19. Joshua College Station Texas

    Nice job Obama! Simply graceful. Protect the Constitution, protect the Executive Branch, and defer to time-weathered checks and balances! I love the effort to certify in writing transparency in the acts of the President. Wonderful!

    This is smooth and subtle stuff, but so incredibly important!!!

    March 9, 2009 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  20. Ping

    hank God. The people have our country back! Thank you Mr. President. Thank you.

    March 9, 2009 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  21. Cystem Phailure

    Another small step in the very long process of undoing DUHbya's damage and his corrupt, scheming practices.

    March 9, 2009 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  22. Ron Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

    This will help clean up goverment and keep them sincere.Good for you Mister Prez Carry On !

    March 9, 2009 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  23. thersa

    Thank you President Obama for helping right the wrongs committed by Bush and Cheney. It's disconcerting, though, to discover how easily our system of government is corrupted when in the hands of dishonorable persons.

    March 9, 2009 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  24. Ben in Dallas

    The Bush administration abused so many constitutional safe guards that it is heartening that President Obama is moving the executive branch back into constitutional balance. He is my president and I am proud to be an American

    March 9, 2009 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  25. Ray Fisher

    Signing statements if required should expire with the President and never carry over to another President. That constitutes a dictatorship!!!

    March 9, 2009 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
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