WASHINGTON — Twenty-one Republican House members wrote President Barack Obama on Friday, asking him to promise to never again use a long-distance "autopen" to sign a bill.

Last month, Congress authorized an extension of the post-9/11 Patriot Act just 15 minutes before the expiration of key provisions allowing for controversial search and surveillance powers.

Obama, however, was in France at the time, and authorized one of his staff to use the so-called autopen to sign the bill into law.

The House members asked Obama to sign the Patriot Act extension again, "out of an abundance of caution," noting that the US constitution says the president must sign a bill before it becomes law.

"Mr. President, it is clear that assigning a surrogate the responsibility of signing bills passed by Congress is a debatable issue, and could be challenged in court," the Republican House members wrote.

The White House based its decision to use the autopen on a 2005 opinion by the Department of Justice, which upheld the constitutionality of its use and was written for the Republican George W. Bush administration.

But, notes the letter, "we are compelled to point out that the memorandum provides a long list of dissenting opinions."

Republicans, particularly supporters of the conservative Tea Party movement, favor a strict interpretation of the US Constitution, particularly with regard to limiting powers delegated to the federal government.