Bush has claimed that his executive powers allow him to bypass more than 1,100 laws enacted since he took office. But administration officials insist that Bush's signing statements merely question the laws' constitutionality, and do not necessarily mean that the president also authorized his subordinates to violate them.
Conyers said the president has no power "to ignore duly enacted laws he has negotiated with Congress and signed." And he vowed to find out whether the administration has followed each law it challenged -- including laws touching on classified national security matters, such as the tactics used to interrogate suspected terrorists and the FBI's use of the Patriot Act.
"This is a constitutional issue that no self-respecting federal legislature should tolerate," Conyers said, and he added that the committee was determined to "get to the bottom of this matter, and to be blunt, we are not going to take no for an answer."
The Michigan Democrat made his remarks at the committee's first oversight hearing since Democrats took control of Congress, which Conyers devoted to signing statements. He called the hearing a kickoff to his plans to use the coming session to probe the administration's "growing abuse of power."
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are beefing up their staff by hiring a special "oversight and investigative unit" of about six attorneys to lead the panel's probes of the administration.
"A functioning police state needs no police." ---William S. Burroughs
"There is no sense and no sanity in objecting to the desecration of the American flag when we tolerate, encourage, and as a daily business promote the desecration of the Country for which it stands." ---Wendell Berry