Summer Grilling Season?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, May 3, 2006; 12:27 PM

It could turn out to be the political event of the summer. Or it could just be another empty promise from the sporadically rebellious Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Charlie Savage writes in the Boston Globe today that Arlen Specter, "accusing the White House of a 'very blatant encroachment' on congressional authority, said yesterday he will hold an oversight hearing into President Bush's assertion that he has the power to bypass more than 750 laws enacted over the past five years.

" 'There is some need for some oversight by Congress to assert its authority here,' Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said in an interview. 'What's the point of having a statute if . . . the president can cherry-pick what he likes and what he doesn't like?'

"Specter said he plans to hold the hearing in June. He said he intends to call administration officials to explain and defend the president's claims of authority, as well to invite constitutional scholars to testify on whether Bush has overstepped the boundaries of his power. . . .

"Legal scholars say that, when confronted by a president encroaching on their power, Congress's options are limited. Lawmakers can call for hearings or cut the funds of a targeted program to apply political pressure, or take the more politically charged steps of censure or impeachment.

"Specter's announcement followed a report in the Sunday Globe that Bush has quietly asserted the authority to ignore provisions in 750 bills he has signed -- about 1 in 10. . . .

"Specter said that challenging Bush's contention that he can ignore laws written by Congress should be a matter of institutional pride for lawmakers."

You would think.

It's certainly good to know someone noticed Savage's highly alarming story on Sunday. (Did you miss it? Read it now .) That puts Specter way ahead of, well, pretty much every other major media outlet in the country, which for inexplicable reasons have chosen to ignore it.

But don't get too excited. Whenever Specter threatens to challenge Bush's authority, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. He has a long record of talking tough -- then knuckling under.

For instance, Specter last month called on Bush to tell Americans why the White House leaked intelligence to bolster the case for the Iraq war in 2003. But then he let the issue drop.

In December, after James Risen and Eric Lichtblau reported in the New York Times on Bush's extensive warrantless domestic spying program, Specter angrily called for hearings. But when they came, he let Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sidestep many of the most important questions.

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