A Flood of Executive Orders

Terry H. Schwadron

Aug. 7, 2020

Donald Trump alone can fix it, he has told us repeatedly now for four years.

Then again, he lightly skips over that he had a Republican Congress behind him for two years, and still has a Republican-majority Senate, as well as compliant Justice, Homeland Security, Education Departments and an Environmental Protection Agency that seems to hate regelation.

Now, a month before the start of early voting towards the November elections, he wants to prove it. Suddenly, we are facing an avalanche of policy fixes that Trump thinks will seal the deal with voters — regardless of whether these are the fixes that people had in mind. Or even whether it represents a fix at all, as opposed to aspirations towards policies without actual detail about carrying it out.

What he promises is a continuing series of executive actions that sidestep Congress — exactly the presidential tool that he continuously has criticized predecessor Barack Obama from pursuing. Plus, should Joe Biden win, a number of these orders will be overturned.

— As talks towards breaking an impasse with Congress over the size and holdings of a coronavirus stimulus bill, Trump has threatened to issue his own executive order — in apparent disregard or violation of congressional control over federal spending.

— After three and a half years, Trump is promising once again to release a plan for national health care, with no signs of including anyone other than his aides. He has used executive orders towards lowering prescription drug prices, though so far they have lacked the oomph to achieve that goal. For a guy who ignores medical experts about pandemic, why do we believe Trump can create a health care plan that addresses actual need? Earlier orders have undercut the Affordable Care Acr.

— He promises a comprehensive immigration plan too, though that is a reiteration of the various policies to build a Wall, add border agents (whom he can deploy to Portland and other cities in decidedly un-immigration issues), and reduce immigration possibilities for asylum seekers. And he has ordered an early end to the Census count in an effort, in part, to cut off counting non-citizens.

Is It Appropriate?

While modern-day presidents have increasingly relied on executive orders to accomplish their agendas, legal experts say that Trump often overstates the authority he has in taking unilateral actions, noted The Hill.com.

Actually, in our crazy-quilt political time, the question seems less whether Trump’s actions are legal as appropriate, whether he can get away with another push of presidential authority without losing his Republican Senate supporters.

Trump said, for example, that he has authority to offer his strictly political re-nomination speech from the White House. Strictly speaking, it is not illegal for him to do so, though it would be for the dozens of White House staff required to pull it off, but it is something that bruises the tradition of keeping some semblance of separation between governing and political work. It is an idea raising even Republican leaders’ eyebrows.

Over time, Trump’s executive orders — which exceed by far the number of such orders by Obama — fall short in two ways: They too often bypass the rules, skipping by Congress and being overturned in the courts, and they have been uniformly devoid of the actions needed to put the policies into work. Instead, Trump relies on his departments to write rules that make them happen, which may be fine, but consistently means that the words of his executive orders are not policy as intended.

Here Come More

With the election approaching, issuing a flurry of new executive orders seems to be an appeal to voters on policy moves he promised over four years but never delivered. Plus, each is a chance to change the conversation from the continuing ill effects of pandemic and a sick economy.

In recent weeks, Trump has taken executive action on drug pricing, visas, and ordering a crackdown on vandalism of monuments. We can expect orders to further restrict immigration visas and more on rules governing DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). He issued an order targeting social media companies, which resulted in little action except departmental promises to look at postings.

“Generally speaking, this president seems to have a wildly inaccurate and overinflated view of the power of executive orders. He seems to treat them or at least talk about them as if they are magic wands,” said Elie Honig, a CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.

He is threatening now to suspend the federal payroll tax — a bad idea, since it pays for Medicare and Social Security — but the issue is that he may not have legal authority to do so. It is a hallmark of this administration that Trump, buoyed by the Justice Department, thinks he can do much more than other presidents have done.

If he really can issue executive orders that can do anything, perhaps he should have one governing the use of masks in a time of pandemic.



Journalist, musician, community volunteer