- Getty Images/Win McNamee
- Much like his predecessor, President Donald Trump has adopted a favorable view towards executive power as a method of achieving policy goals quickly without needing to go through a gridlocked Congress.
- Many candidates in the Democratic primary field have plans of their own anchored in executive action and the expansive power of the presidency.
- Andrew Rudalevige, a professor of government and the presidency at Bowdoin College, told Insider last month that executive power is expansive as presidents have adopted it more to make their policy vision a reality.
- But the extent to which Democrats can implement their plans and do an end run around Congress is unclear, given that Medicare for All and the Green New Deal would require remaking vast segments of the American economy.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Much like his predecessor, President Donald Trump has adopted a favorable view towards executive power as a way of achieving policy goals quickly without needing to go through a gridlocked Congress.
According to the Federal Register, Trump has issued 122 executive orders in the first two years of his presidency – and many of them have rolled back regulations on the environment, energy and imposed stricter controls on immigration.
Andrew Rudalevige, a professor of government and the presidency at Bowdoin College, told Insider last month that executive power is expansive as presidents have adopted it more to make their policy vision a reality.
“There’s quite a lot of administrative authority to use,” Rudalevige said. “And a savvy president can use it.”
That sentiment is being reflected in the policy proposals of several 2020 Democratic candidates.
Many Democratic candidates are eager to use executive power.
Many candidates in the Democratic primary field have plans of their own anchored in executive action and the expansive power of the presidency. Sen. Elizabeth Warren rolled out plans to reduce gun violence, alleviate disparities in racial and gender pay, and to install “a total moratorium” on new fossil fuel leases for public land and offshore drilling sites – all of which rely on a president’s signature.
And then Sen. Bernie Sanders and Warren have championed the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, two sweeping progressive ideas that are not likely to find substantial support among Republicans. They’ve tended to downplay the role of Congress in passing laws or brokering a bipartisan compromise.
One area where Democrats have pushed for executive action in particular is on guns. Warren told MSNBC last month, “I will do everything I can by executive order” on gun control. Sen. Kamala Harris similarly wants to act forcefully on stemming gun violence as president within her first 100 days, proposing to mandate background checks for customers for high-volume guns dealers and tighter regulations on gun manufacturers.
But other Democratic candidates have recoiled at the idea. Former Vice President Joe Biden told a crowd in Massachusetts last month that executive orders don’t ultimately achieve much.
“You can’t do a lot by executive order. You can do some things, but you can’t, you need to generate a consensus,” Biden said, according to the Washington Examiner. And he pushed back against Harris at the recent Democratic debate, telling her its not possible to ban assault weapons via executive order. The California senator replied, “Instead of saying, ‘No we can’t’ let’s say, ‘Yes we can,'” evoking former President Barack Obama’s 2008 election slogan.
When it comes to guns, much of the power on gun policy still belongs to Congress, according to the Sacramento Bee. And getting rid of assault weapons would require a law similar to the 1994 assault weapons ban.
The Senate filibuster makes executive action more appealing.
The filibuster – a 60 vote threshold to pass most legislation in the Senate – has made it all but impossible for sweeping policy packages to pass through the chamber, given both Republicans and Democrats need to reach across the aisle for additional votes.
Republicans currently have a 53-47 majority in the Senate – and the 60-vote majority needed would likely make progressive ideas such as the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, or a $15 minimum wage dead on arrival.
Still, Rudalevige says there are several political benefits to wielding executive power and circumventing Congress, which could be worth risking political blowback.
“One is that you are actually doing something. Whereas if you sit around and wait for Congress to act and you’re not achieving anything, you look weak,” Rudalevige told Insider. “The second benefit is you can portray yourself as a decisive leader who is getting things to change.”
But the extent to which Democrats can implement their plans and do an end run around Congress is unclear, given that Medicare for All and the Green New Deal would require remaking vast segments of the American economy. It would inevitably trigger accusations of presidential overreach from Republican critics.
Trump is relying on executive power to bolster his electoral record ahead of the 2020 election, given that he’s managed to sign into law only two substantial legislative packages in his first two years in office – the 2017 GOP tax cuts and criminal justice reform. Most of his successes have been in the federal judiciary, where his administration has nominated judges at a rapid rate.
An animating force for the president and his supporters remains immigration. NBC News reported earlier this month that Trump vowed to complete the border wall on the southern border with Mexico – and that was the same week he rerouted federal money from disaster aid to immigration control and rewrote rules regarding citizenship for some children born abroad to noncitizens serving in the US military.