Another opportunity for Obama to lead
Ten months after Congress passed a law establishing a White House coordinator for preventing nuclear terrorism, President Bush has no plans to create the high-level post any time soon, according to the National Security Council.
The provision - suggested by leading members of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks - was contained in 2007 legislation designed to improve homeland defenses. Congress passed it by a wide margin, with bipartisan support.
An bipartisan support is always a good sign, right?
Some congressional leaders said Bush's failure to fill the job nearly a year later marks an outright evasion of the law, and called on the president to fill the position swiftly, even though his administration has only seven months left in office.
"Congress and a range of bipartisan experts, including 9/11 commissioners, clearly judged that such a position would help strengthen the effectiveness of the administration's handling of [weapons of mass destruction] proliferation matters," the office of Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who sponsored the legislation in the Senate, said in a statement. "The Congress passed and the president signed into law this requirement."
When asked this month why the position remains unfilled, the National Security Council described it as an internal matter still under deliberation.
"There has been no decision as yet on how best to implement the coordinator position," the council said in a statement.
The White House opposed creating the position from the start. In a January 2007 letter to Congress - six months before the law was adopted - the Bush administration wrote that the appointment of a nuclear antiterrorism chief "is unnecessary given extensive coordination and synchronization mechanisms that now exist within the executive branch," citing a 2006 strategy document that lays out the responsibilities of numerous government departments.
But in the past, Bush has tried to bypass provisions of laws he disagrees with by issuing "signing statements," documents singling out those parts of statutes that White House lawyers advised would infringe on his constitutional powers as chief of the government's executive branch. Bush has used this practice more than any prior president.
This time, however, the White House seems to be ignoring the nuclear terrorism coordinator requirement not for constitutional reasons but simply because the administration thinks it is a bad idea. It is a stance some legal scholars called an even more blatant disregard of the checks and balances on presidential power.
"It is one thing when the president claims it infringes on his constitutional authority," said Phillip J. Cooper, a Portland State University law professor who specializes in separation of powers issues. "It is something else altogether when no such argument is made."
"Congress has the authority to create by statute different responsibilities in executive departments," he added. "You can't ignore a valid statute. I don't think he has the authority to do that."
"You don't think..."
Look, FISA was complicated. National Security. Blue Dogs. 48-state strategy. Jello Jay p0wned by the telcos. The New Republic.
But how complicated is this?
Surely Reid's strongly worded statement gives Obama permission to take a principled stand on the issue of executive power -- and maybe give the netroots a tiny little make-good for the FISA Clusterfuck?