WASHINGTON — Deporting Piers Morgan, funding the construction of a “Death Star, searching for the truth about UFOs — this is just a sample of the issues addressed in petitions that have crossed the 25,000-signature threshold requiring an official White House response in recent months.
And the White House will respond to every single one, if it hasn’t already.
The Obama administration’s much-mocked petition program, launched in the fall of 2011, allows anyone to create a petition on the White House website, and despite the recent spate of silly petitions, officials believe it to be a success. More than 2.7 million users have signed more than 45,000 individual petitions in the program’s 16-month lifetime.
Under the site’s terms of service, any petition crossing the 25,000-signature threshold — as long as it meets the White House’s broad criteria — will receive an official response. And while some responses take longer than others, usually because the administration is discussing how to respond, officials say even ones calling on states to secede from the union will eventually get a response.
The secession petitions, posted in the days after President Barack Obama was reelected, kicked off a round of frivolous petitions, including calling on the U.S. to start building a Death Star by 2016. An earlier round of fun included a petition calling on the White House to “formally acknowledge an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race.” That petition earned a serious response from the White House in November 2011: “The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet…”
When one calling on the White House to take all the other petitions seriously earned 25,000 signatures, Macon Phillips, the Director of the Office of Digital Strategy, replied at length about their response policy.
“[In] many cases, petitions posted on We the People have helped spur discussions of important policy issues here at the White House and across the Administration, and we’ve used the We the People platform to announce changes in policy or continue a dialogue with people who have an interest in the issue,” he wrote.
“While some petitions may seem less serious, many have substantively affected policy debates in Washington,” White House spokesman Matt Lehrich told BuzzFeed. “Ultimately We the People has given millions of Americans an opportunity for the Administration to address issues they care about, which is an important part of the democracy Americans deserve.”
On Tuesday night, more than 100,000 signatories on a petition to deport the CNN host received an emailed response from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
“Let’s not let arguments over the Constitution’s Second Amendment violate the spirit of its First,” Carney wrote, adding for the benefit of gun-rights advocates who may disagree with the Obama’s policies: “President Obama believes that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms.”
The response was also posted on the We The People website.
Officials said they see the petitions, in part, as a way to engage with the president’s most vocal critics, and they relish the opportunity to respond to even the most passionate protests.
Still, the administration hasn’t quite figured out how best to respond to the tens of thousands of signatures calling for their states to be allowed to secede from Obama’s America.