President Donald Trump quietly issued a signing statement Monday night instructing the executive branch to ignore 50 provisions from the $717-billion defense budget authorization law which he had signed earlier that day.
Hours after the televised signing that took place in an upstate New York military base, the president released a list of objections and reservations, several of which concerning US relations with Russia.
Co-operation with Russia: One provision Trump rejected stated that none of the funds approved by the budget “may be obligated or expended to implement any activity that recognizes the sovereignty of the Russian Federation over Crimea.” (Russia had taken over the formerly-Ukranian territory of Crimea in 2014.)
Another disputed provision established new restrictions on military cooperation and coordination between the two countries.
Trump’s signing statement declared that Congress has no right to set these limitations, and that the provisions unconstitutionally infringe on the president’s authority.
The statement noted that these provisions “purport to dictate the position of the United States in external military and foreign affairs,” and would therefore violate the president’s position as “the sole representative of the Nation in foreign affairs.”
Limiting carnage: The president also overruled a provision ordering the appointment of a Pentagon official charged with reducing civilian casualties.
The legal history: The practice of presidents issuing signing statements and offer caveats to the interpretation of newly-signed laws is an old and controversial one. The American Bar Association has repeatedly sounded objections to the practice, criticizing both President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush for their prolific use of it.
“Where a signing statement is used to nullify a provision of law,” ABA President Bill Robinson wrote in 2011, “the President is effectively usurping the power of the legislative branch by denying Congress the opportunity to override a veto of that law and may be abrogating the power of the judicial branch to make a determination of constitutionality.”
Trump managed to turn the military budget into a scene for another reason: He refused to call Sen. John McCain by name, even though the law was named in his honor.
McCain, one of Trump’s strongest Republican critics in Congress, called the president’s cozy meeting with Russia’s autocratic leader Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last month “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”