By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press Writer
Tue Jun 27, 2:25 PM ET
WASHINGTON - The White House on Tuesday defended President Bush's frequent use of special statements that claim authority to limit the effects of bills he signs, saying the statements help him uphold the Constitution and defend national security.
Senators weren't so sure.
"It's a challenge to the plain language of the Constitution," said Arlen Specter, a Republican whose Senate Judiciary Committee opened hearings on the issue. "There is a sense that the president has taken signing statements far beyond the customary purview."
At the White House, Press Secretary Tony Snow said, "There's this notion that the president is committing acts of civil disobedience, and he's not. It's important for the president at least to express reservations about the constitutionality of certain provisions."
The bill-signing statements say Bush reserves a right to revise, interpret or disregard measures on national security and constitutional grounds. Some 110 statements have challenged about 750 statutes passed by Congress, according to numbers combined from 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.
Snow said presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton have issued such statements.
"The president has done the same thing that his predecessors have," he told reporters. "Presidents generally had the same concerns about defending the presidential prerogatives when it comes to national security."
In addition to Specter's objections, Democrats called the signing statements an example of the administration trying to expand executive power.
"I believe that this new use of signing statements is a means to undermine and weaken the law," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (news, bio, voting record) of California. "If the president is going to have the power to nullify all or part of a statute, it should only be through veto authority that the president has authorized and can reject — rather than through a unilateral action taken outside the structures of our democracy."
Defending Bush, a Justice Department lawyer said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had made it prudent for the president to protect his powers with signing statements more than did his predecessors.
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