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Where Obama Stands: Executive Power

Obama, once a scholar of constitutional law, has spoken out against Bush’s use of executive authority. Now that he has won the White House, can he be expected to roll back his own powers? Here, we compile the statements he has made about presidential signing statements, warrantless wiretaps and presidential authority regarding national security issues.

Signing statements and executing laws he opposes

12/20/2007Written response to Boston Globe query: "No one doubts that it is appropriate to use signing statements to protect a president's constitutional prerogatives; unfortunately, the Bush Administration has gone much farther than that."

5/18/2008Response to a question at a town hall in Billings, MT: “We’re not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end- run around Congress.”

Warrantless wiretaps and telecom immunity

1/28/2008Campaign statement: "I strongly oppose retroactive immunity in the FISA bill. Ever since 9/11, this Administration has put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. The FISA court works. The separation of power works. We can trace, track down and take out terrorists while ensuring that our actions are subject to vigorous oversight, and do not undermine the very laws and freedom that we are fighting to defend."

6/20/2008Campaign statement: "Given the grave threats that we face, our national security agencies must have the capability to gather intelligence and track down terrorists before they strike, while respecting the rule of law and the privacy and civil liberties of the American people. There is also little doubt that the Bush Administration, with the cooperation of major telecommunications companies, has abused that authority and undermined the Constitution by intercepting the communications of innocent Americans without their knowledge or the required court orders." (Source: Boston Globe)

Restraints on presidential authority on national security

10/2/2007Speech at DePaul University: "We face real threats. Any President needs the latitude to confront them swiftly and surely. But we've paid a heavy price for having a President whose priority is expanding his own power. The Constitution is treated like a nuisance. Matters of war and peace are used as political tools to bludgeon the other side."

Threats to the balance of powers between branches

2/26/2008Speech in Cleveland: "It's time to give our intelligence and law enforcement agencies the tools they need to track down and take out terrorists, while ensuring that their actions are subject to vigorous oversight that protects our freedom. So let me be perfectly clear: I have taught the Constitution, I understand the Constitution, and I will obey the Constitution when I am President of the United States."

12/17/2007Article from Congressional Weekly examining Obama's writing on constitutional law issues: "For all of Obama’s background in constitutional law, there is a notable absence of writings, such as law journal articles, that might shed light on how he viewed executive power before he was a candidate. His campaign’s decision not to respond to a list of questions on specific subjects, such as war powers and signing statements, ensures that his views can remain vague."

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