Washington, DC.- (GreekNewsOnline)
U.S President Donald Trump signed into law on Friday, in a ceremony at the Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, the 2020 National Defence Appropriations Act that includes provision for lifting the 32 year-old U.S. Arms Embargo to the Republic of Cyprus.
Later on, on board to “U.S. Air Force 1” President Trump signed into law H.R. 1865, the “Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020” (the “Act”). Division J, Title II of the Act included the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019 (the “East Med Act”). Therefore, the East Med Act is now the law of the United States. This includes also the lifting of the Cyprus Arms Embargo, which was also made law via the National Defense Authorization Act.
In a statement accompanying his signing, President Trump raised objections to certain parts of the Act. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/statement-by-the-president-32/
In a first analysis of the Presidential Statement, Endy Zemenides, Executive Director of the Hellenic Leadership Council (HALC) said, this statement continues a practice carried out by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. These statements are known as “signing statements”.
“The purpose of the signing statement varies. The three most common purposes are:
Rhetorical: To point out positive or negative aspects of the bill and how they fit in with the administration’s views.
Political: To define or clarify what the president views as ambiguous aspects of the bill.
Constitutional: To announce the president’s view of the constitutionality of certain aspects of the bill.
Trump’s statement touches on each of these purposes.
Among the numerous provisions of the Act that he specifically identifies, three provisions of the East Med Act are included: Sections 203, 206 and 208.
Section 203 is the Statement of Policy of the United States and lays out Congress’ view of what the US’s policy on the Eastern Mediterranean should be. President Trump’s objection to this Section is that it could be read to “restrict the President’s constitutional authority as Commander in Chief to control the personnel and materiel that the President believes to be necessary or advisable for the successful conduct of military missions.”
He raises the same objection to Section 206, which covers International Military Education and Training (IMET) program funding for Greece and Cyprus.
It should be noted that the President does not specifically identify these funds for Greece and Cyprus as something he objects to, nor does he declare that he will not expend the funds. He is objecting to having Presidential control of such funds – which he seems to be classifying as “necessary or advisable for the successful conduct of military missions.”
This objection should also be considered in the context of reports that the President threatened to veto the Act and shutdown the government if House Democrats refused to drop language requiring prompt release of future military aid for Ukraine (language that was ultimately left out).
Parts of President Trump’s signing statement (which raises objections to other restrictions and mandates on military spending) can be read as an attempt to establish consistency with his position on aid to Ukraine (i.e., Congress can authorize aid, but cannot mandate when – or under what condition – the President releases it). With the potential upcoming impeachment trial, the President’s team may feel the need to establish a consistent constitutional rationale for the position on Ukraine (so it doesn’t look like a political rationale).
It should be noted that while the White House drew a hard line on the Ukraine aid, no such hard line was drawn on the East Med Act spending provisions. In fact, during the negotiations to get the East Med Act included in the Act, no objection to these provisions was communicated.
President Trump’s other articulated objection to the East Med Act is that it included provisions (specifically Sections 203 and 208) that might “interfere with the exercise of the President’s constitutional authorities to articulate the position of the United States in international negotiations or fora.”
Section 203 declares that it is the “policy of the United States. . .to continue to actively participate in the trilateral dialogue on energy, maritime security, cybersecurity and protection of critical infrastructure conducted among Israel, Greece, and Cyprus”.
Section 208 requires the Administration to present to Congress a strategy which includes a “description of United States participation in and support for the Eastern Mediterranean Natural Gas Forum.”
Again, the objection to these provisions is consistent with his objections to other Congressional mandates (both in the Act and elsewhere) regarding international negotiations or fora.
This signing statement cannot be construed as a “line item veto” – which is not only unauthorized by the Constitution, but which the U.S. Supreme Court has already deemed unconstitutional in 1998 (Clinton v. City of New York).
Signing statements have no effect constitutionally, and a federal district court held that no executive statement “denying efficacy to the legislation could have either validity or effect” (see DaCosta v. Nixon)”.
Zemenides stressed that as a practical matter, the entirety of the East Med Act is now the law of the United States.
“This signing statement may be nothing more than an assertion of general constitutional authority, or it may be a hint on how the Trump Administration plans to execute parts of the East Med Act”, Zemenides said.