There’s been a lot of chatter online and in the news about Joe Biden’s penchant for signing executive orders (EO).
His detractors say he is destroying the country at a record pace through his actions while his supporters are celebrating his ability to scribble his name on a piece of paper that’s been handed to him and equating that to a job well done.
I’ve even seen some people argue that by signing 44 of them in such rapid fashion (that is through Feb. 5 according to information found at www.federalregister.gov) the 46th President of the United States has already accomplished more than his predecessor Donald J. Trump.
Time to pump the brakes a little here.
The reality is Biden hasn’t really done all that much out of the ordinary with his first couple weeks in office. He isn’t breaking any new ground and his ability to swing a pen around is definitely not benefiting all Americans in a way that brings us together, like he claimed was so important during his inauguration speech.
He’s merely signing executive orders that he most likely didn’t write, and maybe didn’t even read – his staff and those behind the scenes prepared them – that are mostly meant to please the political base that voted him into office.
Presidential executive orders are nothing new. More than 14,000 of them have been signed since George Washington in 1789, so they are part of the process.
Article II of the U.S. Constitution spells it out: The president is the commander in chief, the head of state, the chief law enforcement officer, and the head of the executive branch and that he has the sole constitutional obligation to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
He (or soon, she) is also granted broad discretion over federal law enforcement decisions.
A president actually has two more similar (sort of) tools in his toolbox besides the executive order. He can announce a proclamation (which communicate information on holidays, commemorations, federal observances, and trade) or an administrative order (which are used to manage administrative matters of the federal government) as well.
But it is the executive order that gets all the headlines. The thing is executive orders can’t be used to give a president new power and they are not legislation. And while they don’t need approval from Congress, and are difficult to overturn, Congress can pass legislation that might make it difficult, or even impossible, to carry out the order, such as removing funding.
Of course, the president has to sign any legislation (unless it is veto proof) to make it official, so an EO is basically bullet proof unless it ends up in the federal courts, which may strike them down if they are found to exceed the scope of the president’s authority, which as happened in the past.
So unless there is a legal challenge or a veto proof piece of legislation, the only time an existing executive order can be overturned is when a new president cancels out the executive order a former president signed. Trump did that to plenty of Barrack Obama’s order, and Biden has already done it with a few of Trumps.
Business as usual in Washington D.C. as of late and another reason why the two-party system favors those the swamp and its benefactors over good old you and me.
At this point, it would seem Biden is on a record pace for signing EO’s, but we won’t know if that’s true or not until his presidency is over. Needless to say, he’s got a long way to go to knock off some of the top spots – mostly held by former Democratic presidents.
According to information found at The American Presidency Project, a website created in 1999 with a goal of being the authoritative, non-partisan source for presidential public documents, the form, substance and numbers of presidential orders has varied dramatically over time.
Numbering of Executive Orders began in 1907 by the Department of State, which assigned numbers to all the orders in their files, dating from 1862. President Herbert Hoover attempted to bring further order and regularity to the processing and documenting of Executive orders, but it wasn’t until the creation of the Federal Register Act in 1936 that a more thorough contemporaneous documentation of Executive Orders began.
Today virtually all numbered executive orders have to be published in the Federal Register unless they have “no general applicability and legal effect.”
In addition to the numbered executive orders, there are many unnumbered orders.
According to statistics found there, our first president issued a total of eight executive orders in his two terms, while John Adams, James Madison, and James Monroe all issued only one. Presidents who issued the least also include Thomas Jefferson (four) and John Quincy Adams (three).
Abraham Lincoln, with 48 executive orders, was the first to approach 50. Ulysses Grant with 217 was the first to break 200, and he held that record until Theodore Roosevelt came along (1,081).
Other leading issuers include Woodrow Wilson (1,803), Calvin Coolidge (1,203), Hoover (968), and Harry Truman (907).
Franklin Roosevelt holds the record, though with 3,721—five of which the Supreme Court overturned in 1935.
More recent presidents and their totals include Dwight Eisenhower (484), Lyndon Johnson (325), Richard Nixon (346), Jimmy Carter (320), Ronald Reagan (381), George H.W. Bush (166), Bill Clinton (364), George W. Bush (291), and Barack Obama (276).
Over one term, Trump issued 220 executive orders.