WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is setting a brisk pace lately in issuing executive orders and he’s just getting started as he tries to position himself as a man of action on everything from foreign policy to racial justice in an election year. The impact of some of the orders, though, is less than meets the eye.
Trump has so far issued 33 executive orders this year, though he was a critic of such actions when running for office. He’s on pace to exceed his high of 55 executive orders issued during his first year in office.
Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, says the president is considering more orders in coming days dealing with topics such as immigration, jobs and China. He contrasted Trump's efforts with members of Congress who are returning to their home states and districts for much of July. They’re expected to come back for a short while before heading out again for most of August.
“It’s apparent that they are not willing to stay here to get the people’s work done. In fact, they’re disappearing for almost three weeks,” Meadows said. “I don’t know that in this particular environment that you can just stand by and say we can just take a three-week vacation.”
Running against Congress is a time-honored tradition in Washington. Harry Truman poked at the Republican “do-nothing” Congress in his 1948 campaign. President Barack Obama mocked the GOP leading up to the 2014 midterm elections: “It is lonely, me just doing stuff. I’d love if the Republicans did stuff, too." Trump’s attack line is the “Do-Nothing Democrats.”
An executive order can have the same effect as a federal law — but its impact can be fleeting. Congress can pass a new law to override an executive order and future presidents can undo them. Trump's executive orders allow him to make use of the bully pulpit, though it's questionable how much some will accomplish.
For example, a recent order on protecting monuments and statues appealed to those alarmed by demonstrators growing increasingly emboldened to destroy statues that they deem offensive or inappropriate. But it merely called on federal officials to make the fullest use of existing law, which authorizes a penalty of up to 10 years in prison for the “willful injury” of federal property.
The president's executive order on policing stopped far short of what Democratic lawmakers are seeking. Kristina Roth at Amnesty International USA said it “amounts to a Band-Aid for a bullet wound.” Democrats want to eliminate qualified immunity for police officers, which would allow those injured by law enforcement personnel to sue for damages. They also seek to ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants.
But that legislation is unlikely to move beyond passage in the House. Meanwhile, Trump tried to project a sense of progress through his executive order, which encourages better police practices as Republicans and Democrats remain in a standoff. “It’s tangible action. And it’s solutions,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said.
Trump also signed an executive order last week to create a “National Garden of American Heroes” before July 4, 2024. To be certain, the monument is far from a done deal and Trump’s plan could be dashed if presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden denies him a second term in November or Congress balks at allocating money for the project.
Several of the president’s executive orders this year are focused on the coronavirus and the impact it has had on the economy. Last month, Trump ordered federal agencies to use emergency authority to scale back environmental reviews for highways, bridges and other major infrastructure projects.
But some law firms have advised that companies that rely on the executive order to obtain approval for long-term projects will expose themselves to lawsuits that have been promised by various environmental groups. An analysis from the Baker McKenzie law firm said legal support for the order “appears dubious and likely to be challenged at every turn."
Trump’s extensive use of executive orders comes after he criticized Obama for doing the same, saying the country “wasn’t based on executive orders.”
“Right now, Obama goes around signing executive orders. He can’t even get along with the Democrats, and he goes around signing all these executive orders. It’s a basic disaster. You can’t do it,” Trump said at a South Carolina campaign stop in 2016.