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Don Wolfensberger – Russia sanctions bill: A tale of two signing statements

The Hill

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

President Donald J. Trump was so taken aback by the overwhelming support in Congress for a sanctions bill aimed at Russia for its interference in the 2016 elections that he issued not one, but two formal statements when he reluctantly signed the measure into law on Aug. 2.

In the first statement he charged that, “in its haste to pass this legislation, Congress included a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions,” including two sections that “purport to displace the President’s exclusive constitutional authority to recognize foreign governments.” He concluded by warning Congress “to refrain from using this flawed bill to hinder our important work with European allies to resolve the conflict in Ukraine….”

In his second statement (now listed first on the White House website), Trump adopted a more conciliatory and forward-looking tone, pointing out that since the bill was first introduced, it had been improved considerably after discussions with the Treasury Department. Gone was the earlier allusion to “clearly unconstitutional provisions,” though the bill still remains “seriously flawed,” because “it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate.” Nevertheless, the president asserted that he was signing the bill “for the sake of national unity,” and because it “represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States.”

The big surge in signing statements under President George W. Bush –161 statements citing over 1,100 objectionable provisions –gave the administration an aura of power aggrandizement. An American Bar Association task force even suggested they were a form of line-item veto –something the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional.

KEYWORDS: PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, DON WOLFENSBERGER, RUSSIA, PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, SUPREME COURT, 115TH CONGRESS, PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP