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Clinton vows to check executive power

Would curb use of signing statements

(David Kamerman/Globe Staff)

Senator Hillary Clinton said yesterday that if she is elected president, she intends to roll back President Bush's expansion of executive authority, including his use of presidential signing statements to put his own interpretation on bills passed by Congress or to claim authority to disobey them entirely.

"I think you have to restore the checks and balances and the separation of powers, which means reining in the presidency," Clinton told the Boston Globe's editorial board.

Although Bush has issued hundreds of signing statements, declarations that accompany his signature on bills approved by Congress, Clinton said she would use the statements only to clarify bills that might be confusing or contradictory. She also said she did not subscribe to the "unitary executive" theory that argues the Constitution prevents Congress from passing laws limiting the president's power over executive branch operations. Adherents to the theory say any president who refuses to obey such laws is not really breaking the law.

"It has been a concerted effort by the vice president, with the full acquiescence of the president, to create a much more powerful executive at the expense of both branches of government and of the American people," she said.

In the wide-ranging interview, the senator, a Democrat of New York, also said her policy on Russia would focus on influencing that nation's role in the world rather than trying to halt its internal move away from democracy. She would seek Russia's help negotiating with Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons program, she said, and try to prevent Russia from "being a problem in the Middle East" or bullying its neighbors.

"I'm interested in what Russia does outside its borders first," she said. "I don't think I can, as the president of the United States, wave my hand and tell the Russian people they should have a different government."

Clinton decried what she called Bush's "incoherent" policy on Russia, saying the president was "naive" to rely so strongly on his personal relationship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Clinton was asked about a statement she made on Tuesday when criticizing the Bush administration's conduct in Iraq. She said she hadn't known that Blackwater USA, the military contractor accused of killing more than a dozen Iraqi civilians last month, had immunity from prosecution in Iraq because of an exemption approved soon after the US invasion.

"Maybe I should have known about it; I did not know about it," she said yesterday.

Asked if that suggested she, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was not sufficiently vigilant on the contractors issue, she said she has been raising questions about contractors for several years and opposed the government's use of them.

On domestic priorities, Clinton pitched her proposals on Medicare reform and scientific research and said she would unveil a plan today to make college more affordable.

Clinton recently floated the idea of issuing a $5,000 bond to each baby born in the United States to help pay for college and a first home, but it immediately inspired Republican ridicule and she quickly said she would not implement the proposal.

She defended that decision yesterday, saying she is focusing on proposals with more political support and she is not formally proposing anything she can't fund without increasing the deficit: "I have a million ideas. The country can't afford them all."

Responding to statements by some Democratic rivals that she is not electable because her negative ratings are too high, she pointed to her increasing lead in national polls. "I am winning," she said. "That's a good place to start."

She sketched out a road to victory in the general election, if she becomes the Democratic nominee, saying she expected to win every state that Senator John F. Kerry won in 2004, plus Florida, Ohio, Arkansas, and probably Louisiana, New Mexico, and Nevada.

"I believe," she said, "that both my theory and my strategy, and my track record and how I'm doing right now, really adds up to a very compelling argument that I will actually win."

Bombardieri can be reached at bombardieri@globe.com.

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