The Corner

Rudy to Bush: Ignore Congress?

At a house party here in Hampton Falls, NH, Rudy was very well-received. Judging by this event, what Obama is to college-age Democrats, Rudy is to middle-age Republicans. They eat him up. Rudy was funny, up-beat, and convincingly hit his key theme of leadership. But he said something I think we may hear more about, and not in a way that will make the Giuliani campaign happy.

Rudy was asked about the Iraq supplemental. He said he finds it “irresponsible and dangerous.” Then he began to muse about, after a veto, “would the president have the constitutional authority to support them [the troops], anyway?” He said he’s a lawyer so he wouldn’t offer an opinion “off the top of his head,” then he proceeded to do just that. He seemed to suggest that Bush could fund the Iraq war without Congress providing funding, but it was confusing. In an interview with a New Hampshire TV reporter after his remarks, he seemed more categorical and said, since the war had been authorized by Congress, the president has “the inherent authority to support the troops.” But he added, “You have to ask a constitutional lawyer.”

In a brief press availability in front of his campaign bus, I asked Rudy whether he was saying Bush could veto the supplemental and, in the absence of a deal with Congress, fund the troops in Iraq under his own authority. “If he vetoes it, he’s going to have to find a way to support the troops,” Rudy said. “They have given him the authorization to fight the war,” and “Bush has the power to redirect the money and time to work something out” with Congress. The last bit suggests that maybe Rudy is thinking in terms of only the next few weeks and not making a broader claim about presidential authority (although he kept on saying “inherent authority” over and over).

But it wasn’t quite clear what he meant, and his statements could be seized on by his critics to argue that he has a dangerously out-sized view of presidential powers. I’ll defer to the lawyers in here, but my understanding is that Rudy is wrong: the president can’t simply re-direct money Congress has appropriated for specific purposes. If Bush wanted to go down a very confrontational route, he could sign the supplemental and defy the timetable as unconstitutional, but he can’t simply pull money out of nowhere or take it from elsewhere for his own preferred purposes.

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