President’s fidelity to oath on autopilot?

Lawmakers cite bill-signing, Libya

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In order to prevent the provisions from expiring, he authorized use of the autopen, which affixes his signature.

Mr. Graves, the lawmaker from Georgia who led the challenge of the autopen, said plenty of dissenters have said legislation must be signed personally. He argues that the constitutional gray area is substantial enough that the president should promise not to use an autopen again.

Asked whether the lawmakers would sue in court or take any other action, Mr. Graves said they “have other plans in place, and it’s our hope the president will abide by our request here, which is very simple, which is sign the bill as he should have.”

The White House declined this weekend to comment further on use of the autopen.

The Republicans’ solution doesn’t answer all the questions. If a court were to hold that the bill wasn’t properly signed, it still might be considered valid because the president never vetoed it. The Constitution allows for bills to become law without the president’s signature, but the period of time when the powers had lapsed could open another legal challenge.

In their letter, the congressmen - about half of whom voted for the Patriot Act extension and half of whom opposed it - said it contrasts starkly with the way the White House handled the botched oath of office in 2009, when Chief Justice Roberts transposed a word in the oath and Mr. Obama followed his lead.

A day later, the president retook the oath at the White House.

“We believe that the oath of office was administered effectively and that the president was sworn in appropriately yesterday. But the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of an abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time,” White House attorney Greg Craig said at the time.

The founding generation envisioned these sorts of conflicts, and tensions among the three branches of the federal government have been common since then.

The War Powers Resolution was passed in the wake of the Vietnam War specifically to try to settle some of those nagging struggles over the commander in chief’s powers to oversee the military, vis-a-vis Congress‘ specific role as declarer of war.

More recently, Mr. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, tried to avoid document disclosure requests by claiming that he was not part of the executive branch, but rather was appended to the legislative branch because of the Constitution’s provision giving him power to preside over the Senate.

At other times, Mr. Cheney asserted executive privilege that would follow from being part of the executive branch.

Mr. Obama and Congress have sparred over his appointment of policy czars to oversee some of his major priorities, such as addressing climate change or trying to win enactment of health care reform.

Republicans on Capitol Hill say the president also is ignoring a 2003 law that requires him to submit a plan for trimming Medicare.

Meanwhile, Congress is missing its own targets, including its self-imposed April 15 deadline for passing a budget.

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