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Cheney Pushes the Boundaries - Again

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Cheney is now arguing that "Congress has no authority over the Vice President." This comes through his attorney, Kathryn Wheelbarger, in response to a request that David Addington (Cheney's former Chief of Staff and legal counsel) testify before Congress regarding Cheney's involvement in approving torture. This is certainly not the first time the White House has argued that staff are protected by Executive Privilege from testifying before Congress. In mid-July 2007, Bush extended the mantle of executive privilege to Josh Bolton and Harriet Miers who had been subpoenaed to testify regarding the dismissal of U.S. attorneys. At that time, it was argued that Bush had the right to deny Congress access to White House records, documents and staff. This is consistent with the Bush administration structuring of the President as a "Unitary Executive." This is essentially an argument that the President of the United States has the authority to act unilaterally and without the oversight of Congress. The administration has crafted these powers largely through the use of thousands of executive signing statements, and by usurping powers without response from the Congress. The clearest statement of this "authority" was issued in an executive signing statement appended to the "USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005" - signed into law March 9, 2006. In part, that statement read:
The executive branch shall construe the provisions of H.R. 3199 that call for furnishing information to entities outside the executive branch, such as sections 106A and 119, in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information the disclosure of which could impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative processes of the Executive, or the performance of the Executive's constitutional duties. The executive branch shall construe section 756(e)(2) of H.R. 3199, which calls for an executive branch official to submit to the Congress recommendations for legislative action, in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to recommend for the consideration of the Congress such measures as he judges necessary and expedient.
Like the signing statements before and after it, the Congress did not challenge the administration on its overreaching grab for power. The Unitary Executive theory of the Presidency does not extend to the Vice President - at least not according to anything I have read. Therefore, for Cheney to argue that Congress has no authority over him is not legitimate even under that illegitimate theory. What this does represent is the further carving out of aristocratic powers by the administration. Apparently Cheney feels that not only should the President/King be unfettered with checks and balances, but so too should the Vice President / Heir Apparent. His refusal to allow Addington to testify is a furthering of his arguments that the Vice President's office is a "hybrid" and therefore unfettered by Congress. An argument he made in 2007 to avoid releasing classified documents to Congress last year. Last year, Congress voted to place both Bolton and Miers under contempt of Congress. As far as I know, that has had no consequences whatsoever. One assumes they will issue the same to Addington. The claims of freedom from Congressional or Judicial oversight are a stalling tactic at this point. With the lack of speed with which the Congress has progressed, it is a tactic that is likely to work. Unfortunately, the fact that the Bush administration has been able to effectively rewrite the powers of the presidency will pass on to the next president - and on into the future. It has done more than set a precedent of presidential hubris. It may well have carved away the balance of powers. See King Bush - The Unitary Executive for a more extended discussion of the Unitary Executive, and critical signing states Bush has employed.
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Rowan Wolf is an activist and sociologist living in Oregon. She is the founder and principle author of Uncommon Thought Journal, and Editor in Chief of Cyrano's Journal Today.

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