How many executive orders has Pres. Biden signed?

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President Joe Biden signs an executive order on climate change, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(ABC4) – It’s been more than a week since President Joe Biden took office following an unprecedented inauguration marked by the global COVID-19 pandemic and the deadly U.S. Capitol riot.

His inauguration and the condition under which he assumed office are not the only unique aspect of his young presidency – within his first two days in office, President Biden signed 17 executive orders, including 15 on his first day.

That is far more than any of his recent predecessors during their first week in office, including Donald Trump, who signed five; Barack Obama, who signed five; and George W. Bush, who did not sign any, according to The American President Project.

As of Jan. 29, his 15th day in offce, Biden has signed a total of 22 executive orders.

Here is a full list of executive orders signed by Pres. Biden so far:

The American President Project (APP), run by UC Santa Barbara, shows no recent president – dating back to Dwight D. Eisenhower, has issued more than 500 executive orders during their entire time in office.

Below is a list of how many executive orders each of the five previous presidents have signed:

Donald Trump: 220

Barack Obama: 276

George W. Bush: 291

Bill Clinton: 364

George Bush: 166

According to the APP, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a record number of executive orders – 3,721 – during his more than 12 years in office, or an average of 307 each year.

While Pres. Biden has undoubtedly signed more executive orders during his first few days in office than Trump, Obama, and Bush, it is unclear if it is a record. According to PolitiFact, run by The Poynter Institute, the available record before FDR is not complete enough to say Biden has broken any records.

Seth Masket, a professor of political science at Duke University tells Newsweek that it is not uncommon for a president to sign several executive orders after inauguration.

It is too early to tell just how many more executive orders Pres. Biden will sign during his first 100 days in office, or his entire term.

Fact check: No, Biden didn’t say that signing lots of executive orders makes you a dictator

Fact check: No, Biden didn’t say that signing lots of executive orders makes you a dictator

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Washington (CNN) President Joe Biden has signed more than 35 executive orders, actions and memorandums in his first week-and-a-half in the Oval Office. And some of Biden’s critics are saying or suggesting that his frequent early use of the presidential pen contradicts a dramatic statement he made on the campaign trail in October.

“Biden signed off on a record number of executive orders during his first week – but just three months ago, according to Biden himself, that’s something only a dictator would do,” Fox News host Sean Hannity said on air Tuesday.

“As recently as October, now-President Biden said you can’t legislate by executive action unless you’re a dictator. Well, in one week, he’s signed more than 30 unilateral actions, and working Americans are getting short shrift,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday in the Senate.

“By his own definition, Biden is already governing like a dictator,” read a headline on an opinion column in The Hill by commentator Joe Concha. Biden signs more executive orders despite claims he once said they were for dictators," read a headline in the conservative Washington Examiner. “Joe Biden admits he is governing like a ‘dictator,’” said a caption posted on Instagram by Charlie Kirk, founder and president of conservative student group Turning Point USA.

These Biden critics are taking his “dictator” remark out of context. Biden explicitly campaigned on signing various executive orders, including those to rescind some of then-President Donald Trump’s own executive orders, and he didn’t say in October that signing a large number of orders means a president is a dictator. Rather, after Biden rejected the idea of using an executive order to raise taxes on corporations and wealthy people, he said there are “things you can’t do by executive order unless you’re a dictator.” In other words, Biden was saying what he had said before and has said since – that executive orders are unconstitutional for some particular purposes.

In an email, McConnell spokesman David Popp forcefully rejected CNN’s conclusion that McConnell had inaccurately characterized Biden’s “dictator” remark. Popp said that given the full text of what Biden said in October, and other campaign comments Biden made about his belief in a consensus-seeking philosophy of governing, “your fact check doesn’t check out.”

We respectfully disagree. Let’s go through some relevant history.

Biden’s comments

Biden argued during the campaign that other politicians, including some of his rivals in the Democratic primary, were proposing to use executive orders in situations where orders could not properly be used. He told the New York Times editorial board in December 2019 that it would be unconstitutional to sign an executive order to ban possession of assault weapons or to make substantial changes to the judiciary.

At an ABC News town hall event in Philadelphia in October 2020, Biden was asked by host George Stephanopoulos if it is wise to carry out his proposals to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy at a time when the economy is weak. After Biden defended his plan, Stephanopoulos said, “So there’s not going to be any delay on the tax increases.”

Biden responded: “No, well, I’ve gotta get the votes. I gotta get the votes. That’s why – you know, the one thing that I – I have this strange notion. We are a democracy. Some of my Republican friends and some of my Democratic friends even, occasionally say, ‘Well, if you can’t get the votes, by executive order you’re going to do something.’ Things you can’t do by executive order unless you’re a dictator. We’re a democracy. We need consensus.”

This was familiar Biden rhetoric. Like his previous comments to the Times, the “dictator” remark was a criticism of proposals to use executive orders for initiatives that require congressional approval, not an assertion that signing a lot of executive orders is inherently tyrannical.

Popp argued that Biden’s subsequent sentence about the need for “consensus” shows that he was making a broad statement about his philosophy of governing, not just speaking narrowly about executive orders for a change to tax policy. And Popp noted that Biden had repeatedly spoken, including in the Times interview, about the importance of bringing people together and working through Congress.

That’s fair enough. But McConnell still went too far when he implied that Biden signing a bunch of executive orders means he contradicted the “dictator” comment in particular.

There’s also some additional important context.

Biden’s campaign promises

Multiple Biden executive orders simply rescind policies Trump had imposed through his own executive orders without public complaint from McConnell and other Biden critics. And, critically, Biden promised during the campaign that he would sign significant executive orders. In fact, many of Biden’s early-presidency executive orders fulfil explicit campaign pledges.

For example, Biden signed a series of orders aimed at combating climate change – just as his campaign climate plan, which is still on his website , said he would: “On day one, Biden will sign a series of new executive orders with unprecedented reach that go well beyond the Obama-Biden Administration platform and put us on the right track.”

Biden’s Executive Orders Are Essential to Restoring Democracy

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Caricatured by Republicans as “Sleepy Joe,” the new president has started his term with an impressive sprint, issuing a record number of executive orders. In his first 10 days in office, Biden has signed 24 executive orders. That’s eight more than the combined total the last five presidents signed in the same period (Donald Trump signed six, Barack Obama five, George W. Bush two, Bill Clinton two and George H.W. Bush one).

To be sure, as Trump got used to the presidency, he became a confident and prolific user of executive orders, signing 208 (as against Obama’s 276 executive orders in a presidency that was twice as long as Trump’s). Many of Biden’s executive orders are directly aimed at rescinding Trump’s commands. “In office, though, Mr. Biden has been moving at a blistering pace,” The Economist notes. “Within hours of being sworn in, he had recommitted America to the Paris climate accord; restored ties with the World Health Organization; lifted a ban on travelers to America from several Muslim-majority countries; promised to protect from deportation ‘dreamers’, brought to America illegally as children; extended temporary freezes on household evictions and federal student-loan payments; mandated mask-wearing in airports, public transport and in federal buildings; and halted construction of the US-Mexico border wall.”

The New York Times finds this “blistering pace” much too fast. In an editorial, the newspaper enjoined, “Ease Up on the Executive Action, Joe.” According to the Times, executive orders are a blunt and limited instrument, lacking the force and greater permanency of congressionally passed laws. After all, it would just take another Republican president to put back in place Trump measures Biden had overturned.

“A polarized, narrowly divided Congress may offer Mr. Biden little choice but to employ executive actions or see his entire agenda held hostage,” the Times editors admitted.

The Times editorial board even has the gall to use the Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to America as children, as a weapon in its polemical onslaught against executive orders. The newspaper frets about Dreamers’ living in “a nightmarish limbo” due to the whiplash of changing executive orders from Obama to Trump to Biden. But this creates an equivalence between those trying to protect the Dreamers and those trying to deport them. In truth, the “nightmare limbo” was created by two forces: Republicans in Congress, unwilling to enact immigration reforms, and Trump, trying to leverage the Dreamers in order to coerce funding for his border wall. Leaving out this fact serves as an apologia for the GOP.

This editorial is a prime example of the Times’ vulnerability to myopic Mugwumpism, a tendency to focus on small-bore political process while ignoring the actual power dynamics that drive politics. The Mugwumps—late-19th century reformers—fixated on civil service reform as a panacea for all that ailed America, ignoring battles over Reconstruction and the civil rights of formerly enslaved people.

In a like manner, a persnickety focus on the limits of executive orders makes sense only if one ignores the much larger battles around American democracy. Earlier this month, Donald Trump egged on a mob to attack Congress in order to thwart the process of even installing Biden as president. Trump and many other Republican elected officials did everything in their power to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Biden’s win. To this day, some, like South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, refuse to admit that Biden won a free and fair election. Current Issue View our current issue

In the context of having his legitimacy called into question, it is crucial for Biden to assert his authority as quickly as possible so that the nation can see he is in fact the president. Biden took a number of decisive early moves to make visible his executive authority, notably firing the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel, Peter Robb, a Trump-era holdover who refused a request to resign. Undoing some of Trump’s worst executive orders was also a way for Biden to make clear that he is president.

Biden’s use of executive orders helps bolster democracy in several crucial ways. First, it shows that elections have consequences—and that the 81 million Americans who helped Biden win the White House deserve to have their views imprinted on government. Secondly, going after Trump’s executive orders quickly and with the same process Trump used helps show how transitory Trump’s legacy is. Thirdly, the orders make Biden’s authority visible in a way that defies Republican efforts to delegitimize his presidency.

The one part of the Times editorial that has value is the argument that Biden should in the future work with Congress. But executive orders and congressional action are not mutually exclusive. Congress works slowly and will take time not just passing laws but also reasserting the oversight role that Trump thwarted. There’s nothing incompatible about an early push on executive orders to clean up Trump’s mess and fostering a healthier relationship with Congress.

But working with Congress doesn’t necessarily mean the bipartisan outreach that the Times recommends. Biden and congressional Democrats show every sign of pushing ahead with an ambitious stimulus agenda, even if it means stepping on the toes of Republicans. As Politico reports, “Democrats are vowing to move forward on a new stimulus package as soon as next week, with or without Republicans. Though Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have not officially said they plan to pursue a party-line approach through budget reconciliation, many Democrats now believe that’s the only way forward.”

Reconciliation won’t give the Democrats everything they want. Any efforts at legislating outside the budget will require either overturning the filibuster or getting the support of 10 or more Senate Republicans. Both paths are uncertain and perhaps foredoomed.

Still, the early turn to reconciliation shows that congressional Democrats aren’t being sidelined. They are ready to work with Biden. On some significant issues, like the second impeachment of Donald Trump, congressional Democrats have forged a path independent of the president.

Biden’s executive orders aren’t a threat to democracy. Rather, they spring from an energized Democratic Party that is helping to revitalize American democracy and make it functional again.