Earlier this week, when President Bush signed the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, he issued a little-noticed signing statement, claiming that provisions in the law — including the barring of funds for permanent bases in Iraq — could be disregarded.
Democrats in Congress were quick to condemn Bush’s stealth measure. On the Senate floor, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) called it “the clearest signal yet that the Administration wants to hold” the “option” of permanent bases “in reserve.” Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) said Congress expects Bush to “faithfully implement all of the provisions of the [act], not just the ones he happens to agree with.”
In a statement, Sen. Joe Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Bush’s signing statement “outrageous” and constitutionally questionable:
It is outrageous for the President to suggest that Congress cannot bar the use of funds — something clearly within the power of Congress under our Constitution — for the construction of permanent bases in Iraq.
Conspicuously absent from the debate over Bush’s signing statement is Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). In the past, McCain has spoken out aggressively against signing statements, saying they are “wrong” and that they “should not be done“:
“I would never issue a signing statement,” the Arizona senator said at a Rotary Club meeting in Nashua, adding that he “would only sign it or veto” any legislation that reached his desk as president.
Perhaps McCain is keeping silent because he shares Bush’s goal of an indefinite, long-term presence of American troops in Iraq. Last month, McCain said it would be “fine with” him “if we maintain a presence in” Iraq for “a hundred” years.
The question arises as to what’s more important to McCain: his anti-signing statement pledge or an indefinite presence in Iraq?