Flying a Bill Halfway Across the World

In the recent OLC opinion I discussed about electronically presenting and returning a bill, there’s a footnote that explains a little more about the two times in relatively recent history when the White House decided to send a bill halfway around the world to the President for his signature.  These incidents had been hinted at by the recent Nielson opinion on autopens, but they had not been explained in much detail.  Now that the Nielson opinion has made clear that the President may authorize that his signature be added to a bill by autopen, it’s likely that these incidents will no longer occur, but it’s an interesting piece of trivia about how things used to go.  Here’s the footnote (it’s #9):

On at least two prior occasions, in accord with our advice, the White House had flown the print of the enrolled bill it had received from Congress to the President at a location abroad, so that the President could sign the print, instead of having the President sign a faxed copy or instruct a subordinate to sign the original enrolled bill for him back in Washington D.C.

In April 1984, President Reagan was traveling to China when Congress presented to the White House a bill to cure a constitutional infirmity in the bankruptcy court system.  The President needed to sign the bill before May 1 to keep the bankruptcy courts in operation, but he was not scheduled to return to the United States until May 1.  We advised the White House that the President must himself sign the bill.  See Tarr Memo at 9-10.  The White House accordingly flew the print it had received from Congress to China, where President Reagan signed the bill into law on April 30.

In November 1999, we similarly recommended that the White House fly the original print of an enrolled continuing resolution to President Clinton in Turkey, so that he could sign the original print instead of a facsimile copy.  We followed the 1984 China precedent out of an abundance of caution but raised as a question to be considered in the future whether Congress might have been able to declare the facsimile copy to be the true enrolled bill, such that the President could have signed the facsimile copy consistently with Article I, Section 7.  See Singdahlsen Memo at 1-2.

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