Obama Wields His Autopen To Sign Patriot Act Extension The long-distance signature machine has its critics, but it had a great admirer in Thomas Jefferson and was found to produce a valid presidential signature during the George W. Bush administration. Now, it has signed an extension of the USA Patriot Act into law.
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Obama Wields His ... Autopen?

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Obama Wields His ... Autopen?

Obama Wields His ... Autopen?

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A: As NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports, this is the first time that we know of that an autopen has signed a bill into law.

ANDREA SEABROOK: The first autopen was patented in 1803 by a man named John Isaac Hawkins. The polygraph, as it was called, was immediately pounced on by America's original early adopter of cutting edge technology, Thomas Jefferson.

SUSAN STEIN: He wrote with one pen and it was hooked to another pen, and the other one made a copy on the second piece of paper.

SEABROOK: Susan Stein is the senior curator of Monticello, Jefferson's Virginia plantation. The mansion is full of high-tech machines: automatic doors, a dumbwaiter in the dining room to pluck bottles of wine from the cellar, and then there's the double clock - one facing the hall...

STEIN: And outside, there is another face that shows the hours, and that was hooked to a Chinese gong on the roof.

SEABROOK: Modern autopens can write by themselves. And this morning was not the first time a president has considered using one to sign a bill, says former Deputy Attorney General Howard Nielson.

HOWARD NIELSON: This is an issue that in the past had come up a couple of times. It had always come up in kind of urgent circumstances.

SEABROOK: It's 29 pages long, but it essentially says, what matters is the president's decision to approve a bill, not the mechanics of how it's signed. After all, says Nielson, the Constitution also says if the president is going to veto a bill, quote, "he shall return it."

NEILSEN: You know, it's never been understood that he actually has to physically walk down Pennsylvania Avenue and hand it to Congress himself.

JAY WEXLER: Excuse me. Excuse me. Hi, I have this bill. I must return.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WEXLER: Does anybody know where Congress is?

SEABROOK: Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, Washington.

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