During his first month in office, President Trump signed executive orders regarding immigration, infrastructure, and health care. But how much power do such orders really have? We talk about the limits of executive orders, how they can be an effective tool, and how Trump’s use of them compares with his predecessors. During Wisconsin Life, we revisit a surprising discovery buried within the collections fo the Wisconsin State Herbarium. Plus, we talk to a higher education reporter about a new analysis of Governor Scott Walker’s performance-based funding proposal for the UW System in the next biennium.
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The Power Of Executive Orders
Throughout history, executive orders have been used by U.S. presidents to legally create policy while bypassing Congress. We find out how powerful a tool they can be, what limits there are on them, and whether the current administration’s use of them is out of the ordinary.
Professor: Trump Using Executive Action Differently, Not Necessarily More, Than Past Presidents
Since taking office, President Donald Trump has signed dozens of executive orders, some of which have drawn harsh criticism from opponents, including nationwide protests following the controversial travel bans.
Gitterman, whose book “Calling the Shots: The President, Executive Orders, and Public Policy” was published last month by the Brookings Institution Press, said Trump is just using the power “in different ways.”
Republicans who criticized President Barack Obama by saying he overstepped his constitutional rights with executive orders have largely fallen silent on the topic now that the Trump administration has taken office, said Gitterman, chair of the public policy department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Following Trump’s inauguration, critics such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, said actions taken by Obama would be undone.
“President Obama used his pen and phone and executive orders to exceed his power, in our perspective. Everything that President Obama did by executive order, this new president can undo,” Ryan told reporters in January. “We would like to see these things undone, and we’d like to see power restored to the people and the states, not the federal government.”
Gitterman said views of executive orders are widely influenced by who is in the White House.
“This is the type of the issue depending on who’s in the White House colors how you think about it,” Gitterman said. “Paul Ryan prefers Trump’s preferences on a lot of these policy issues.”
Throughout history, presidents from both parties have utilized executive orders. Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a record number of executive orders — which have official designation in the Federal Register and are publicized. While Obama elevated the use of presidential memoranda, which are directives to agencies or secretaries to carry out some action the president wishes.
Both President Bill Clinton and Obama relied more heavily on executive action as a “strategy to achieve any type of policy goals” after losing control of Congress during the midterm elections in 1994 and 2010, respectively, Gitterman said.
While some executive orders tend to be undone immediately when the other party takes office — such as the Mexico City Policy, or what critics call the global gag rule, which Trump has already undone — others stand the test of time. Trump has shown little interest in undoing Obama’s effort to prohibit federal contractors and the federal government from discriminating based on gender identity or sexual orientation, Gitterman said.
What has changed under Trump is the fanfare surrounding executive orders, Gitterman said.
“The calling in of the White House Press Corps to the Oval Office to watch him actually read and sign the executive order … they’ve become much more planned media events than they had in the past,” he said.
Additionally, Gitterman said it appears the executive orders released under the Trump administration, especially initially, underwent less internal vetting within the Justice Department or Office of White House Counsel before they were issued than in previous administrations.
“This administration issued their most controversial orders very, very quickly without a lot of internal legal vetting, which I think has opened them up to even more significant court challenge,” he said.
Gitterman said it’s important for people to know that after the photo op is over, these executive orders take different paths forward.
“A very initial order that suggested not enforcing mandates in the Affordable Care Act, that is going to require congressional action; and you see that shifting now to Congress about what to do now with the Affordable Care Act. There are others, for example, a freeze on federal hiring that happened immediately, federal government is doing no more hiring at the moment,” he said.
“Some have to go through the rule-making process that will take a little bit more time, and so people really have to pay attention to the substance and scope of each order as they come.”
- Rob Ferrett Host
- Veronica Rueckert Host
- Amanda Magnus Producer
- Karl Christenson Producer
- Judith Siers-Poisson Producer
- Karen Herzog Guest
- Ken Cameron Guest
- Daniel Gitterman Guest
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