OBAMA & What He Said What He Did: Despite His Pledges as a Candidate to Adhere to the U.S. Constitution - Unlike the George W. Bush Administration - Obama Has Failed to Make Good on His Promises

Article excerpt

President Obama began his presidency with great promise, publicly pledging to end many of the Bush administration attacks against the U.S. Constitution. Obama had pledged during his initial election campaign to end signing statements as a back-door method of legislating (usurping the legislative branch's powers under Article 1 of the Constitution), warrantless surveillance (violating the Fourth Amendment), detention without habeas corpus (Fifth Amendment) or trial (Sixth Amendment), torture (Eighth Amendment), and excessive executive branch secrecy under the "executive privilege" and "state secrets" claims, and pledged that he would not engage in offensive wars without the approval of Congress (Congress' power under Article I, Section 8).

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During his first week as President, Obama appeared to be making great progress toward fulfilling those promises to return the executive branch of government to the limits of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Obama signed three executive orders to ban torture and limit interrogations to the Army Field Manual, to close Guantanamo prison within one year and grant detainees in the war on terror prisoner-of-war status, and to limit the use of executive privilege and executive branch secrecy.

Since that first week, however, Obama has beaten a fast-track retreat on nearly all of these promises related to the U.S. Constitution and, in some instances, even committed worse offenses against the Constitution than the Bush administration. Following is a survey of those campaign promises and how Obama has fulfilled or--in nearly every case--reneged on them.

Signing Statements: Total Backtrack

Candidate Obama told the Boston Globe on November 20, 2007 that he would never use signing statements--a public announcement by the President attached to a bill Congress has enacted into law--to undo the will of Congress. He correctly noted that the Bush administration had unconstitutionally done precisely this on a regular basis:

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I will not use signing statements to
nullify or undermine congressional
instructions as enacted into law. The
problem with this administration is
that it has attached signing statements
to legislation in an effort to change
the meaning of the legislation, to
avoid enforcing certain provisions of
the legislation that the President does
not like, and to raise implausible or
dubious constitutional objections to
the legislation. The fact that President
Bush has issued signing statements to
challenge over 1,100 laws--more
than any president in history--is a
clear abuse of this prerogative.

Yet within months of taking office, Obama had already used signing statements to put Congress on notice he would ignore provisions of laws he had signed on foreign relations, as well as on domestic spending bills. Even Congressmen in his own party complained to Obama in a letter that he had unconstitutionally usurped the exclusively legislative power to make rules for the spending of federal monies.

"We were surprised to read your signing statement in which you expressed the view that you are constitutionally free to ignore the conditions duly adopted in the legislative process regarding funding for the international financial institutions," Congressmen Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and David Obey (D-Wis.) wrote in a letter to Obama July 21, 2009. "During the previous administration, all of us were critical of the President's [i.e., Bush's] assertion that he could pick and choose which aspects of congressional statutes he was required to enforce. We were therefore chagrined to see you appear to express a similar attitude."

Obama upped the executive-branch-arrogance ante with a signing statement on four of his "czars" in April 2011. In a bill he helped to broker to stop the government from shutting down, Obama brazenly declared he would ignore the law's provisions to defund the "czar" positions. …