1 1  | | << >>
Executive Orders: A Primer
01/29/2017 Executive Orders Raymond Z
keywords: Presidents

If you haven't already heard enough about "Executive Orders" you will. The new Trump administration is embracing a strategy that President Obama gave more visibility to when he issued a total of 279. The fact is, however, according to the Federal Register, Obama issued fewer executive orders than both two-term presidents who preceded him, George W. Busch (291) and Bill Clinton (308). But, Executive Orders have been around since 1789 and since that time, over 13,000 have been issued. Many have been controversial.

President Franklin Roosevelt used Executive Orders to initiate internet camps for Japanese-Americans in World War II and President Kennedy used them to ban Federal discrimination in jobs and housing in the early 1960s. Roosevelt, by the way, is the all-time leader in Executive Orders, issuing over 3,500 of them. But what exactly are Executive Orders and how do they work?

What Are Executive Orders?

While the term "Executive Orders" would come later, the ability for a President to bypass Congress is actually a constitutional provision defined as a "grant of executive power". They are legally binding, and a CNBC article from 2014 states that they have only been turned over by the Supreme Court twice in the history of the country. The same article says that congress can unfund the costs of any Executive Order, the President can veto that unfunding bill. In essence, an Executive Order is binding and has power.

How It Works

As Operations Manager of the United States, the President has the ability to sign an executive order and, as long as it is constitutional, it will be legal. Once a President signs an order it is sent to the Office of the Federal Registry (OFR). The OFR then numbers each order and then  shortly thereafter, publishes it in the daily Federal Register. For those interested, every executive order issued since 1994 is available to be downloaded at the OFR website by year and by president.

"Going It Alone"

Faced with an uncooperative Congress with a political majority, President Barack Obama said he would "Go it alone" by using Executive Orders to make the changes he wanted. Early in his administration, Donald Trump has already used several Executive Orders to bypass what should be, a friendly Congress. This is partly why his early orders have raised some eyebrows. By "Going it alone" he is keeping members of his party from voting on controversial issues. But he is also placing himself fully responsible for the results of any of his actions. How this plays out with Congress and the American people is sure to make for some intriguing political drama in the months and years ahead.

Back to List