Obama makes rare use of autopen to sign highway funding bill

By Amy R. Connolly   |   Nov. 20, 2015 at 11:23 AM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- President Obama signed a two-week extension of highway funding Friday using a so-called autopen, controversial technology that reproduces the president's signature.

The White House said Obama, who is in Malaysia, authorized his signature to be placed on the measure "given the need for this extension and given the fact that the president is on the other side of the Pacific Ocean." The bill, passed earlier this week by the House and Senate, gives Congress until Dec. 4 to agree on a long-term funding bill.

Without Obama's signature, the Highway Trust Fund would have lapsed Friday night.

The use of the modern autopen came into popularity through President George W. Bush, who commissioned the Justice Department to examine the constitutionality of the device. In 2005, federal attorneys found the president can use an autopen to sign bills and other documents, saying "we conclude that the president need not personally perform the physical act of affixing his signature to a bill to sign it."

While Bush never used it, Obama first used the device in 2011, signing a last-minute extension of the Patriot Act while in France, and in 2013 signing an extension to Bush-era tax cuts while vacationing in Hawaii. Use of the pen has never been challenged in court.

The White House has not given a full accounting of the number of times Obama has used the autopen, but longtime CBS Radio White House correspondent Mark Knoller surmised it has been at least seven times.

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