After two days of wrangling and last-minute deal-making in the Senate, Congress cleared a reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act on Thursday, and the Obama administration announced that the president signed the bill into law before provisions of the anti-terrorism act expired at midnight.
A standoff over amendments in the Senate ate into the time needed to fly the enrolled bill to President Barack Obama, who is traveling in Europe. Instead of physically signing the bill, Obama planned to direct the use of an autopen to sign it, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said in an email shortly after the House cleared the bill.
“Failure to sign this legislation poses a significant risk to U.S. national security,” Shapiro said in the email.
Autopens generate a facsimile of an individual’s signature and are frequently used by Members of Congress for signing constituent correspondence and other letters. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel advised in 2005 that the president may sign a bill by autopen.
Obama signed the bill into law Thursday night, according to a White House statement released shortly before midnight. It did not mention the autopen.
The president's signature followed the bill’s passage in the Senate on Thursday on a 72-23 vote. The House cleared it about two hours later, 250-153.
Although passage was never in question, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) resorted to a one-man filibuster in a showdown over amendments. Paul and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) ultimately reached a deal allowing votes on two of the freshman Senator’s amendments. The proposals, including a controversial gun-related amendment, essentially failed when bipartisan majorities voted to table the measures.
Meanwhile, the House did not vote Thursday on a proposal that would rework the nation’s unemployment insurance program after GOP leadership yanked the bill from the schedule Wednesday night.
According to GOP aides familiar with the bill, the legislation would have essentially changed how federal unemployment insurance funds are paid out, giving states more control over them.
But Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the bill’s sponsor, ran into trouble Wednesday during a briefing with GOP freshmen, who peppered him with concerns for more than 45 minutes.
Aides downplayed the issue, saying the decision to scrap the vote was largely a result of the vagaries of the House floor.
“Chairman Camp briefed Members [on Wednesday] because he believes Member education is an important component to any piece of legislation, and there was strong, positive feedback on the policy, but, as you know, floor activity is always fluid,” a GOP aide said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.