Matthews didn't challenge McCain's pledge to go to Supreme Court if Bush indicated that he was "not going to abide" by an act of Congress

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE & KURT DONALDSON

Chris Matthews did not challenge Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) assertion that he would "be one of the first to support going to the United States Supreme Court" if the president indicated through a signing statement that he was "not going to abide" by a law passed by Congress. In fact, while McCain initially rebuked President Bush over a signing statement to his detainee treatment bill and threatened close congressional oversight, he has since neither sought a ruling from the Supreme Court, nor even held hearings on the subject.

On the October 18 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews did not challenge Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) assertion that he would "be one of the first to support going to the United States Supreme Court" if the president indicated through a signing statement that he was "not going to abide" by a law passed by Congress. As Media Matters for America noted, in January 2006, McCain initially rebuked President Bush over his signing statement to the McCain-authored Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and threatened congressional oversight, but since then, McCain has neither gone to court for a ruling on the legal force of the president's signing statement nor held hearings on the subject. Ignoring this context, Matthews did not challenge McCain on his assertion that he would not stand for an indication by the president that he would not abide by an act of Congress, nor did he ask McCain what oversight McCain has actually conducted to ensure Bush's compliance with the Detainee Treatment Act.

As Media Matters has noted, Bush has reportedly declared the authority to disregard more than 750 acts of Congress -- including the Detainee Treatment Act. Legal scholars cited by The Boston Globe characterized Bush's signing statements as "a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress" and "upsetting the balance between the branches of government."

On the September 24 edition of CBS' Face the Nation, discussing the newly passed Military Commissions Act of 2006, McCain was asked how he could have had confidence that Bush would keep his word given the signing statement Bush had issued late last year when he signed the legislation that contained the Detainee Treatment Act. Through that signing statement, Bush effectively reserved the right to unilaterally disregard the torture ban if he felt it was necessary to do so, as Media Matters has noted. McCain told Washington Post national political editor John Harris that "the administration acted in good faith" in negotiating the Military Commissions Act, which further addressed detainee treatment, because while Bush did "put that signing statement in" to the Detainee Treatment Act, he has "never violated it to my knowledge," and Congress "would challenge it" if Bush did:

HARRIS: The last time you reached an agreement, it was in law, the administration signed it, and then put out a signing statement saying it was going to interpret it its own way. Did you have confidence as you were negotiating with the administration, and are you also confident that this outlaws torture?

McCAIN: That Detainee Treatment Act, they did have -- put that signing statement in, but it's -- they have never violated it to my knowledge, and we would challenge it if they did. And second of all, part of this agreement is adherence to the act that we passed, the Detainee Treatment Act. So, look, I believe the administration acted in good faith.

Neither Harris then, nor Matthews on October 18, questioned McCain further about his vow in his response to Bush's December 2005 signing statement to conduct oversight to ensure Bush's compliance with the Detainee Treatment Act. Nor did Matthews question McCain on his assertion during the Hardball interview that he would go to the Supreme Court if Bush indicated through a signing statement that he was "not going to abide" by the bill he was signing.

Also during his interview with McCain, Matthews lauded McCain for "call[ing] ... out" Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) -- presumably referring to a February dispute in which McCain and Obama exchanged critical letters over lobbying reform. Matthews repeatedly exclaimed that Obama "buckled" and "folded" over the issue, leaving McCain to downplay the incident. After McCain stated, "Can I just say -- stop!" Matthews concluded by again praising McCain, stating: "He folded. You were the tough guy."

From the October 18 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator McCain, how do you feel about President Bush's use of signing statements to reinterpret and ignore provisions of laws passed by Congress?

McCAIN: As a member of the legislature, I don't like it a damn bit.

[applause]

McCAIN: If the signing statements mean that -- and they've been used in the past by other presidents, but not nearly as extensively as this president -- that, well, you just object to certain provisions, or you don't think some of it is constitutional, that's fine. But if you say you're not going to abide by those laws, then that's a serious erosion of the separation of powers, and you can't -- you cannot -- it simply cannot be that way. That is a violation of the Constitution of the United States. And if that happened, I would be one of the first to support going to the United States Supreme Court to make sure that those signing statements were advisory in nature and advisory only.

MATTHEWS: Next question, just a minute. We only have half a second, half a minute.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator McCain, there's been a lot of generals calling for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation. How do you feel about that?

McCAIN: Time for a break?

MATTHEWS: No. We got time, senator.

[...]

MATTHEWS: Let me show you a picture of a young man who's making a lot of noise in American politics. It's on the cover of Time magazine. I don't know what the hype's behind -- what do you think is behind this hype? Possible president of the United States, he's only 45, two years of service in the U.S. Senate. Is a man of that limited experience ready for the presidency?

McCAIN: I don't know. But that's why we have primaries and all that kind of stuff. But there's no doubt, and Barack and I have had our differences from time to time. But he's --

MATTHEWS: Didn't you call him out once? I remember --

McCAIN: I did.

MATTHEWS: -- you called him out --

McCAIN: I did.

MATTHEWS: -- and he buckled.

McCAIN: No, he didn't.

MATTHEWS: He did.

MCCAIN: But I have worked with him --

MATTHEWS: Yes, he did.

McCAIN: No, he didn't. No, he didn't. I have worked with him --

MATTHEWS: Yes, he did.

McCAIN: I have worked with him on a broad --

MATTHEWS: He folded --

McCAIN: Can I just say -- stop!

MATTHEWS: He folded. You were the tough guy.

McCAIN: He -- I have worked with him on a broad variety of reform issues. He is a serious legislator. He has a great deal of charisma. I don't know if he runs for president or not this time, because I don't know that much about the Democratic Party or his ambitions. But he is a future leader of this country. I have great respect for him.

From the September 24 edition of CBS' Face the Nation:

HARRIS: What gives you the confidence? The last time you reached an agreement, it was in law, the administration signed it, and then put out a signing statement saying it was going to interpret it its own way. Did you have confidence as you were negotiating with the administration, and are you also confident that this outlaws torture?

McCAIN: That Detainee Treatment Act, they did have -- put that signing statement in, but it's -- they have never violated it to my knowledge, and we would challenge it if they did. And second of all, part of this agreement is adherence to the act that we passed, the Detainee Treatment Act. So, look, I believe the administration acted in good faith. We all understand the need to collect intelligence and we know how important it is. But we also ought to recognize that --

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy
Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Chris Matthews
Show/Publication
Hardball
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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