NOW Can We Impeach Him? Opening Other People's Mail
As a dog returns to his vomit, G.W. Bush has returned to form. On Dec. 20th, the man who would be Sulla signed a postal reform bill into law, then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open people's mail under "emergency conditions" without a judge's warrant. This openly defied the law he had just signed. As far as I know all of the major news outlets were caught napping by this one, with the exception of the New York Daily News .
The official White House line is that there's nothing to see here, nothing new... All of a sudden Tony Snow is channeling George Kingfish Stevens: "We is confused? You is the one that's confused." The problem is that Bush has issued almost 800 signing statements, more than all other presidents combined.
The "signing statement" has been used by presidents to comment on new legislation, a glorified press release with no legal authority behind it. He might indicate that he disagrees with some part of the law, or considers it unconstitutional, but... Ever since the Reagan administration, the Executive has used the signing statement to indicate which parts of the law he intends to enforce and which parts he means to ignore. Mind you, there are already Constitutional means for a president to reject a law he doesn't agree with. He can refuse to sign it and toss it back to Congress for revision. He can use Lincoln's "pocket veto", i.e., stick it in his vest and "forget" to sign it.
Let me say again: the Bush administration has issued more signing statements than all other presidents combined. Oddly, this technique for avoiding compliance fits neatly with the amateur diagnosis of the president as a "dry drunk", an alcoholic who stops drinking but does not confront the destructive personality traits of an alcoholic. He might have refused to sign the law, but that would put the ball back in Congress' court, and open an unwelcome discussion of the bill's merits or defects. He might have used the pocket veto to stall for more time. Instead, the administration uses the "signing statement" and keeps everyone guessing as to just what the law is-- and that lets them make up the rules as they goes along.
When the Exxon Valdez ran aground, there was a joke: "How many captains does it take to ruin Alaska? One and a fifth. How many Texans does it take to destroy a Ship of State?