When he becomes President, expect a flurry of Executive Orders from Joe Biden

This time of year four years ago, I was on a flight to Washington DC. The Americans had just had their four-yearly presidential election and, to the amazement of the world, Donald Trump had beaten Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College although not in the popular vote.

By chance, I was seated next to an American who had voted for Trump. He was young, educated and articulate, so I was surprised at his choice. In conversation, I learned that he had two particular gripes with the Democrats: first, he had a visceral hatred of Clinton (which I did not understand) and, second, he believed that as president Barack Obama had made hugely excessive use of Executive Orders (which I contested).

An executive order is a means of issuing federal directives and it is used by a US president to manages operations of the federal government. The legal or constitutional basis for executive orders has multiple sources, but they are sometimes criticised for being an abuse of power or simply as a show of activity without real change. Any executive order can be revoked by another president.

Executive orders were used very sparingly until Abraham Lincoln who issued 48. Theodore Roosevelt issued 1,081, while Calvin Coolidge issued 1,203. The record, though, is held by Franklin D Roosevelt with 3,522. He served four terms and it was the Great Depression which explains this number.

So, was my American fellow flyer right to be angry at Barack Obama’s use of executive orders? Obama issued 276 during his eight years in office. That was actually a bit less than his Republican predecessor George W Bush who issued 291 in his eight years in the White House. And what about Donald Trump? In his four years in office, he has used executive orders 193 times. Although Trump has made a big show of signing such orders, his use of them has not been much more frequent than other recent presidents.

Remember all this early next year when President Joe Biden issues a flurry of executive orders to reverse some of Trump’s terrible decisions and to start the process of making America sane again. The Republicans will accuse him of abusing his powers but he will be acting constitutionally and in accordance with precedent.

One Comment

  • Mairi Macleod

    A very useful post, Roger – thank you.
    And thanks also for this week’s quote from Kierkegaard, on walking. It sums up perfectly how I feel on the subject, never more so than now. Once we have freedom of movement again, I intend to walk a very long way!


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