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Assessing the Rhetorical Side of Presidential Signing Statements


  • AUTHORS' NOTE: We thank anonymous reviewers, the editor of Presidential Studies Quarterly, and our colleague Professor Will Hazleton for invaluable suggestions.


Recent work on the constitutional signing statement suggests such tools can be designed to defend constitutional and institutional powers or help presidents shape policy. Much less is known about rhetorical signing statements and their significance for presidential power. Our analysis from 1981-2008 demonstrates that rhetorical signing statements are calculated messages that vary in purpose from heaping praise on Congress to credit claiming and building political capital. The findings highlight the role of political conditions like divided government and presidential approval levels as well as salience of legislative opportunities in explaining the type of rhetorical message aimed at Congress.