WASHINGTON - Three leading Democratic senators blasted President Bush yesterday for having claimed he has the authority to defy more than 750 statutes enacted since he took office, saying that the president's legal theories are wrong and that he must obey the law.
''We're a government of laws, not men," Senate minority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said in a statement. ''It is not for George W. Bush to disregard the Constitution and decide that he is above the law."
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, accused Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney of attempting to concentrate ever more government power in their own hands.
Just as disturbing as the president's use of press releases to announce which laws he will follow is the abject failure of the Republican-controlled Congress to act as a check against this executive power grab...Until Republican leaders let Congress fulfill its oversight role, this White House will have no incentive to stop this abuse of power.
Senator Patrick Leahy, Vermont
''The Bush-Cheney administration has cultivated an insidious brand of unilateralism that regularly crosses into an arrogance of power," Leahy said in a statement. ''The scope of the administration's assertions of power is stunning, and it is chilling."
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, also said that the Bush administration, abetted by ''a compliant Republican Congress," was undermining the checks and balances that ''guard against abuses of power by any single branch of government."
The opposition lawmakers were reacting to a report in Sunday's Boston Globe detailing the scope of Bush's assertions that he can ignore laws that conflict with his interpretation of the Constitution.
Bush is the first president since Thomas Jefferson to stay so long in office without vetoing a bill -- an act that gives the public notice that he has rejected a provision and gives Congress a chance to override his judgment. Instead, Bush has signed into law every bill that reached his desk, often in public ceremonies in which he praises the legislation and its sponsors.
Then, after the ceremony, Bush has quietly appended ''signing statements" to more than one out of every 10 bills he has signed, laying out his legal interpretation for government officials to follow when implementing the new laws. The statements, which until recently attracted little attention in Congress or in the media, are filed without fanfare in the federal record.
In many cases, Bush has said he can ignore acts of Congress that seek to regulate the military and spy agencies, asserting the Constitution grants him that power as commander in chief. For example, he has claimed the power to waive a torture ban, provisions for oversight in the Patriot Act, limits on domestic wiretapping, and numerous regulations for the military.
Other statutes Bush has asserted that he can ignore have little to do with national security. They include some types of affirmative-action provisions, ''whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.
The White House has declined to answer questions about Bush's legal claims in his signing statements. ''We follow the practice that has been followed by previous administrations," spokeswoman Dana Perino said yesterday.
But legal scholars say Bush's assertions have gone far beyond that of any previous president in US history. Bush has applied his signing statements to more than 750 new statutes. His numbers are by far a record for any US president, scholars say.
Many scholars also contend that Bush is usurping some of the lawmaking powers of the Congress and Constitution-interpreting powers of the courts.
But, Leahy said, because Bush's fellow Republicans control Congress, Democrats have no power to call hearings on Bush's attempt to ''pick and choose which laws he deems appropriate to follow."
''Just as disturbing as the president's use of press releases to announce which laws he will follow is the abject failure of the Republican-controlled Congress to act as a check against this executive power grab," Leahy said. ''Until Republican leaders let Congress fulfill its oversight role, this White House will have no incentive to stop this abuse of power."
Copyright 2006 Boston Globe