In an unprecedented move, yesterday an autopen was used instead of the president's signature to sign a bill into law while he was traveling in France. The White House's legal team has expressed confidence that the signature of the Autopen was sufficient to enact the extension of the controversial Patriot Act. Despite possible constitutional challenges, the Supreme Court is expected to uphold the practice given that opposing it would likely offend Justice Scalia's autopen, Clarence Thomas.
The recent focus on the Autopen now has Republicans developing a new game plan for the 2012 election. With their field of viable prospective presidential candidates rapidly shrinking, many Republican insiders have quietly begun urging the Autopen to mount a bid for the GOP Presidential nomination to unseat President Obama. Despite having never itself served as an elected representative, the autopen has worked under nearly every politician in the United States since 1946, signing countless letters to constituents and prospective political supporters. The Autopen, they say, is uniquely qualified to run a strong campaign and already has a leg up on a majority of the declared contenders.
"Mr. Pen already has more experience in government than Herman Cain, who himself is inexplicably polling at 8 percent of Republican primary voters," said conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer. "Unlike Newt Gingrich, it doesn't have problems keeping its message consistent, and although it may not have the people skills that Mr. Obama possesses, its charisma far exceeds that of Tim Pawlenty."
"The Autopen is the best serious candidate we can come up with now that both Governors Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels have declined to run," says a Republican National Committee member who asked to speak off the record. He observed that the Autopen has quickly gained support among establishment Republican officials afraid that the renewed prospect of a Palin run could sink their chances of retaking the White House. "The fact is, Governor Palin just doesn't have the intellectual curiosity that the Autopen possesses. Most of us have personally worked with both Ms. Palin and the Autopen and we all believe that when it comes time to make the hard decisions and answer the tough questions, Sarah Palin cannot match the Autopen's skills."
In contrast with the Republican establishment, many Tea Party Conservatives have a mixed view of the Autopen. Some say they would like to replace all non-security government employees with autopens to shrink bureaucracy, while others are concerned about the Autopen's support of the Patriot Act, which many initial supporters now realize to be an excessive growth of "big brother" government.
Democrats have already begun their campaign against the Autopen, with senior strategists for the Obama campaign saying that they plan to play off fears of independent voters that Republicans will take control of the Senate in 2012. In a new ad similar to those used against Assemblywoman Jane Corwin in the recent New York special election, titled "Autostamp," the Autopen is painted as a rubber stamp for highly divisive Republican proposals such as the Ryan Medicare Plan.
"If the destructive Ryan Medicare plan had been placed in front of it, this autopen would have signed the bill," said House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi. "This Pen is incapable of vetoing a single piece of legislation. It can't help but sign every bill that Congress sends its way. That's not leadership, and that's not what the American people want in their president."
Yet even if it chooses not to run, the Autopen may have found itself another opening in the political arena. Should Senator Tom Coburn be forced to resign over his role in the John Ensign sex scandal, Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma has said that she will appoint the Autopen as an interim senator to consistently write "No" during votes on the Senate floor in Coburn's absence.
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