Autopen Controversy: Should Presidents Use It to Sign Bills? -- With the Patriot Act set to expire Thursday night, President Obama signed legislation extending it -- from France. How did he do that? Using an autopen, of course.

Article 1, section 7 of the United States Constitution states: "Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it becomes a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it..."

It needs to be "presented" to him, and if he approves it "he shall sign it."

"Failure to sign this legislation posed a significant risk to U.S. national security," White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said. "The president directed the use of the autopen to sign it."

Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., wrote to the president Friday questioning whether an autopen is good enough. To reporters, Graves said the autopen move set a "dangerous precedent." What if the president is hospitalized and not fully alert, he asked. "Can a group of aggressive Cabinet members interpret a wink or a squeeze of the hand as approval of an autopen signing?"

The Senate's top Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was asked at a press conference if he thought that the use of the autopen would pass legal muster.

"I think that's a better question addressed to them," McConnell said. "They did the research and their lawyers apparently advised them that this was permissible. I haven't looked at the legality of it and therefore don’t have an opinion to express on it."

In 2005, President George W. Bush was told by his Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice that he could use an autopen given "the legal understanding of the word 'sign' at the time the Constitution was drafted and ratified and during the early years of the Republic. We find that, pursuant to this understanding, a person may sign a document by directing that his signature be affixed to it by another."

This, the OLC found, was supported by opinions of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice "addressing statutory signing requirements in a variety of contexts. Reading the constitutional text in light of this established legal understanding, we conclude that the President need not personally perform the physical act of affixing his signature to a bill to sign it within the meaning of Article I, Section 7...We emphasize that we are not suggesting that the President may delegate the decision to approve and sign a bill, only that, having made this decision, he may direct a subordinate to affix the President's signature to the bill."

Former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer says President Bush's White House did solicit the opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel in 2005 about the use of the autopen to sign legislation but he never used it.

"When necessary, the actual bills were flown to him accompanied by someone from the staff secretary's office for his live signature," Fleischer recalls. "Thought was given to using the autopen on a 'minor' piece of legislation to establish a precedent in case there was ever a legal challenge.  However, it was never done."

Fleischer says, "I think the Obama Administration is on solid ground, but they are taking somewhat of a risk that the autopen will be challenged in court. Using it for the first time on major legislation carries some risk." He adds that he "love(s) the irony of the Obama White House now following Bush's OLC opinions, but that's a different matter."

In 2004, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was criticized for using an autopen to sign condolence letters to the families of fallen troops.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Military Industrial: Should Pentagon Budget Be Cut?

US Dept of Defense(WASHINGTON) -- Defense accounts for the largest chunk of U.S. federal spending. Of all the money that Congress controls each year, nearly a quarter goes towards the Pentagon and defense spending.

As Congress mulls budget cuts, defense spending is coming increasingly under scrutiny and threatens to become another explosive topic that could divide Republicans as the 2012 race heats up.

Members of Congress on both sides of the political aisle have ramped up pressure on the Pentagon to find ways to trim its budget amid growing concern about the rising deficit.  House Speaker John Boehner has repeatedly said that "there is no part of this government that should be sacred" and that there's room in the Defense Department's budget to "find savings."

President Obama has proposed cutting $400 billion through the 2023 fiscal year in security spending, more than double what his Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed.

Gates ordered a budget review last week but offered few specifics on what would be cut.  Rather, the outgoing secretary has talked more about what should be off the chopping block, such as expensive fighter jets and aircraft for the Air Force, new ships for the Navy and ground forces in various parts of the world.

The cost of owning and operating the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter fleet would top $1 trillion over more than 50 years, including an additional $385 billion to purchase 2,500 of the stealthy planes through 2035, according to a report published in the Wall Street Journal.

Proponents of keeping the defense budget steady say neither Gates' amount nor Obama's figure of $400 billion will have any real impact on the deficit, and that it's "penny-wise and pound foolish."

Despite all the rhetoric about finding savings in the defense budget, it's a politically sensitive issue that few want to touch.

Even Obama has done little on this front except to lay a rough and mostly vague outline for future cuts.  In fact, his budget for 2012 proposed $553 billion for the Defense Department's base budget, an increase of $22 billion over the 2010 budget.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Republicans Showing Little Appetite for 2012 Election

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Republicans who flirted with running for president in 2012 -- and decided not to try -- showed little appetite for the relentless demands and punishing grind of a campaign.  Their candid characterizations now make one wonder who would.     

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who ran an insurgent campaign in 2008 and had led in many 2012 pre-primary polls, said he wasn't ready to be pushed "to the limit of his...human capacity."  

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who lamented he couldn't resolve family "considerations," said a campaign is "not a mountain you jump off of by yourself."

And Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour eschewed the "all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else," of a campaign -- which his wife, Marsha, said "horrifies" her.

"It takes your whole life.  It takes everything you know and everything you've got," said Richard Ben Cramer, author of What It Takes: The Way to the White House, of being a presidential candidate.   "And they can never go back to what they called their life because the campaign changes them," he said.

So what type of person takes the presidential plunge anyway? 

Someone with an insatiable hunger for the "number one job in the world," Cramer said.  

Research shows presidential candidates also share an above-average desire for power. 

"They like the idea of exerting influence both on reality itself and other individuals," said Chris Federico, director of the Center for Political Psychology at the University of Minnesota. 

They have a "need for achievement, a need to achieve excellence in some realm," he said.  "And some are after affiliation, to have connections with other people."

Ultimately, experts say, the decision of whether or not to run for the White House -- at once deeply personal and strategic -- boils down to what candidates and pundits describe as a gut feeling, a "fire in the belly."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


GOP Launching Jobs Bill

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- For the time being, Republicans want to turn voters' attention away from cutting spending and reforming Medicare and redirect the focus on a more immediate concern: creating jobs.

This latest agenda comes days after the GOP lost a congressional seat in a Republican-dominated district of New York last Tuesday, as Medicare became the only issue on people's minds.

House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday introduced the package that featured a number of proposals, including promoting free trade and trimming regulations and taxes.  However, the Ohio Republican acknowledged that it really wasn't all that much different from what the party has presented before.

In fact, some of the ideas came from last year's Pledge to America prior to the November elections, when the GOP stump focus was heavy on promised jobs creation.  Current pieces of GOP legislation working their way through House committees include a number of the same proposals.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi countered, "These are the same policies in the Bush administration that did not create jobs, that increased the deficit [and] did not strengthen the middle class."

Boehner insists the ideas in the jobs bill are still relevant.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Michelle Bachmann to Announce Presidential Candidacy in Waterloo, Iowa

ABC/Donna Svennevi(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn.,  will announce her plans for a presidential campaign next month in Waterloo, Iowa, the town where she was born, she told reporters Thursday night.

Bachmann was scheduled to speak at a GOP dinner Thursday evening in Des Moines but chose to remain in Washington to vote on anti-terror legislation. She spoke to the reporters gathered in Iowa via speaker phone and delivered a video message to the dinner attendants.

Reportedly, Bachmann said she could still decide not to run in 2012 but was confident about making a go of it. For weeks, Bachmann, a Tea Party favorite, has said she would announce her decision in June. She did not indicate on which day next month she will visit Waterloo.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mitt Romney to Announce He's Running

James Devaney/WireImage(WASHINGTON) -- ABC News has learned that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will make his presidential aspirations formal on Thursday, June 2.

A source close to the campaign says Romney will make the announcement at a BBQ at the Bittersweet Farm in Stratham, New Hampshire at noon.

Romney's camp tweeted Thursday, "Making it official next week at the Scamman Farm in New Hampshire."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Congress Passes Patriot Act Extension; Obama Won't Personally Sign

The White House

UPDATE:  The White House confirms that President Obama has signed the Patriot Act extension into law via use of autopen.

(WASHINGTON) -- Congress officially passed an extension of the Patriot Act Thursday night, just hours before key provisions of the national security law were due to lapse at midnight.

President Obama, currently on an overseas trip, is not at the White House to sign the bill, a requirement for the measure to become law.  

So the White House will use an autopen -- a machine that replicates Obama’s signature -- to sign the extension, according to White House spokesman Nick Shapiro.

"Failure to sign this legislation poses a significant risk to U.S. national security. As long as Congress approves the extension, the President will direct the use of the autopen to sign it," Shapiro said in a statement.

Jay Wexler, a Boston University law professor and author of The Odd Clauses: Understanding the Constitution Through Ten of Its Most Curious Provisions, says the constitutionality of using an autopen was confirmed in a thorough 2005 Office of Legal Counsel opinion.

Here's the relevant passage written by then-Deputy Attorney General Howard C. Nielson:

“We examine the legal understanding of the word 'sign' at the time the Constitution was drafted and ratified and during the early years of the Republic.  We find that, pursuant to this understanding, a person may sign a document by directing that his signature be affixed to it by another....Reading the constitutional text in light of this established legal understanding, we conclude that the President need not personally perform the physical act of affixing his signature to a bill to sign it within the meaning of Article I, Section 7 [of the Constitution.]"

Copyriht 2011 ABC News Radio


Sen. Lee: ‘I’m Not Nervous About What Republicans Are Doing’

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Amid the public hand-wringing over his party’s stance on Medicare, count freshman Sen. Mike Lee among those committed to standing behind a bold -- if politically risky -- set of policy proposals.

“I'm not nervous about what Republicans are doing,” Lee, R-Utah, who was elected last year with strong Tea Party support, told ABC News Thursday.

“Republicans are the only group in this town who put forward a budget, a budget that’s gone anywhere. The only budget we've got from any Democrat right now is the president’s, which got exactly zero votes on the floor of the Senate yesterday. That tells you something about where his leadership in this country is taking us.”

Despite skepticism from some Republicans -- including the leading presidential contenders -- about the budget put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan, Lee said there’s broad agreement inside the GOP: “They do endorse the idea that we have to address these problems head on. We have to confront entitlements. We have to confront the fact that if we do nothing, that by itself will destroy our entitlement system.”

Regarding Medicare, Lee said, the key is to frame the choices to voters: “Obviously it's an enormously complex problem. We need to continue to message that well, to explain it to the American people. To explain most importantly the fact that the current path, allowing Medicare to remain intact, unchanged, simply isn't an option.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


John Edwards Meets with Bunny Mellon, Potential Witness in Cover-Up Case

Chris Hondros/Getty Images(UPPERVILLE, Va.) -- John Edwards, while facing looming criminal indictment, spent Thursday afternoon in Upperville, Virginia, visiting one of the key players in the alleged scheme to cover up his affair.  

Multiple sources at the estate of Rachel "Bunny" Mellon confirm to ABC News that the former North Carolina senator met Mellon Thursday for lunch at her sprawling compound in Northern Virginia.

The purpose of the visit is unclear, but it is sure to raise eyebrows with federal investigators who have spent more than two years scrutinizing Mellon's contributions to Edwards and his presidential campaign. Attorneys for Edwards did not respond to requests for comment.  

Mellon, heir to a banking fortune, donated more than $4 million dollars to political organizations and non-profits tied to Edwards' 2008 run and also provided more than $700,000 that prosecutors believe was funneled to the effort to support and seclude Edwards' mistress, Rielle Hunter. Mellon's attorney has described those payments as gifts and has said that Mellon was unaware of how the money was used.   

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Senate Passes Extension of Patriot Act Provisions, Sends to House

Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate Thursday evening passed a four-year extension of expiring Patriot Act provisions, only hours before they were due to lapse at midnight.

The Senate voted 72-23 on final passage of the bill. The measure now moves on to the House, which is expected to approve the extension in the next few hours. It will then go to President Obama for his signature.

The vote came after Senate leaders reached an agreement with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. The agreement stipulated that a final vote on passage of the Patriot Act extension could occur if the Senate also voted on two amendments offered by Paul.

One of his amendments sought to clarify that the authority to obtain info under the Patriot Act did not include the authority to obtain certain gun records.

“I think it’s very important that we protect the rights of gun owners in our country not only for hunting, but for self-protection, and that the records of those in our country who own guns should be secret,” Paul said on the Senate floor before the vote. “I don’t think the government, well-intentioned or not well-intentioned, should be sifting through millions of records of gun owners.”

Another amendment attempted to make financial firms issue suspicious activity reports only in certain cases when initiated by an appropriate law enforcement agency.

“My Visa bill sometimes have been $5,000," Paul said. "Sometimes we pay for them over the phone, which is a wire transfer. Have I been investigated by my government? I don’t know. It’s secret. What I want are protections.”

Ultimately, both of Paul’s amendments failed to advance in the Senate.

The feud between Paul and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the days leading up to this evening’s final vote led to fears that the Patriot Act provisions – despite bipartisan support for them – would not be extended before the midnight deadline.

But in the end, the feud in the Senate was resolved, the Senate passed the provisions and sent them along to the House, leaving the Obama administration and 72 senators pleased. The Senate is now set to leave for its week-long Memorial Day recess.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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