It all started on Jan. 14 when President Obama signaled his willingness to bypass an uncooperative Congress by reaching straight for the pen on his desk.
“I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” Obama said, noting, “We are not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help that they need.”
A few days later, at a college opportunity summit in Washington, D.C., Obama said it again: “I’ve got a pen to take executive actions where Congress won’t, and I’ve got a telephone to rally folks around the country on this mission.”
The slogan stuck. Other White House officials, including Press Secretary Jay Carney and Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer, have been repeating it in briefings and in TV appearances, and on the eve of the State of the Union Address, the White House even tweeted out a photo of the president’s pen.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 27, 2014
But even as the Obama team has hammered away at the president’s newest talking point, the GOP has found ways to hammer him with it.
Speaker of the House John Boehner released a meme juxtaposing Obama’s phone and pen with a copy of himself brandishing the U.S. Constitution.
Said Boehner, “Instead of looking to work together, the president this week reminded people that he has, quote, ‘a pen and a phone.’ I would remind the president he also has a Constitution.”
And on Thursday the House Speaker took aim at Obama once again, complaining that the president “is running around the country telling everyone that he’s going to keep acting on his own, keeps talking about his phone and his pen. And he’s feeding more distrust about whether he’s committed to the rule of law.”
Earlier this week the Senate Republican Conference released a video spoofing the phone-and-pen approach. The montage suggests the president “use that phone he keeps talking about” to request that Senator Harry Reid pass fast-track trade-promotion authority legislation, which would allow the president to negotiate international trade agreements without fear of congressional amendment or filibuster. “#GotAPhone?” the video asks.
In keeping with the hashtag theme, several Republicans have suggested Obama “#UseThePen” to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
— Speaker John Boehner (@SpeakerBoehner) February 1, 2014
— Rep. Lee Terry (@LEETERRYNE) February 3, 2014
— Stephen Fincher (@RepFincherTN08) February 2, 2014
However, potential 2016 presidential contender Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., took a more serious tack, telling CNN that the president’s phone-and-pen strategy sounded “vaguely like a threat,” while Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., called it an effort to “circumvent the will of the American people.”