Just because the president signs legislation into law, doesn’t mean the president actually signs the legislation.
As it turns out, presidents apparently have used an autopen on occasion to sign legislation and other documents, especially when, for example, they’re out of town.
Four years ago, CBS News reported, President Obama was in France when Congress passed an extension of the Patriot Act; he authorized the use of an autopen to affix his signature to the legislation. Haste was required because provisions of the controversial law were due to expire at midnight.
But it appears the autopen goes into action even when there’s no apparent urgency, according to the CBS News White House reporter Mark Knoller, citing, for example, the “signing” last month of a proclamation on National Park Week.
The White House cited a 2005 opinion from the Bush Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel as legal justification for using the autopen. (It made the same justification in 2011 after the Patriot Act “signing.”) The opinion said that the president doesn’t need to “personally perform the physical act of affixing his signature to a bill he approves and decides to sign.” Proclamations fall into the same category, the Obama folks say.
It’s hard to even tell the difference:
The White House, CBS said, confirmed two more proclamations last year were also signed by the presidential autopen. They involved the designation of National Days of Prayer and Remembrance and another for National Grandparents Day.
Now, if Hillary Rodham Clinton gets elected 18 months from now, you know there is no way, none, that that autopen is going to sign a proclamation for National Grandparents Day. Maybe other stuff, but not for that.