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What is an executive order? How are they used?

Posted: 12:35 PM, Jan 24, 2017
Updated: 2017-01-24 13:35:16-05
Newly sworn-in President Donald J. Trump has signed several executive orders into effect since taking office.
 
They’ve included orders withdrawing the U.S. from the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, advancing the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and barring international non-governmental organizations that perform or promote abortions from receiving U.S. government funding.
 
Mordecai Lee, a UW-Milwaukee professor and former Democratic state lawmaker, said executive orders have been used by almost all Presidents throughout history.
 
“An executive order is like a memo from the President to the Executive Branch,” Lee said.
 
He added such orders are not as far-reaching as laws passed by the U.S. Congress. That’s why they don’t take nearly as long.
 
“It’s easier to get things done with the stroke of a pen, by signing a piece of paper, than by asking congress to pass a law,” Lee said.
He said that’s why new Presidents often use executive orders to show they’re getting to work right away.
 
Lee added an executive order signed into effect by one President can be rolled back by a successor. He expects Trump to do that.
 
“I’m guessing over the next couple of days he’s going to be signing executive orders that nullify an executive order that President Obama previously signed,” Lee said.
 
According to the non-profit, non-partisan American Presidency Project, Obama signed 277 executive orders during his time in office. That’s fewer than Republican George W. Bush (291) and Democrat Bill Clinton (364).
 
Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt holds the record for most executive orders issued with 3,721 over the course of 12.2 years in office.
 
Executive orders can apply to almost anything.
 
Lee said one order from Theodore Roosevelt called for “government agencies to write all their reports in readable English, rather than surveys or technological reports.”
 
He added Franklin D. Roosevelt was criticized by some for using executive orders to create new government agencies.
Just like with laws, the courts can invalidate an executive order if it’s deemed to be unconstitutional.
 
“There aren't any guidelines to what a president can sign an executive order on,” Lee said. “The boundaries are: did he exceed his power as President? Did he exceed a law or the constitution?”
 
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) issued the following statement in response to a question about the use of executive orders by U.S. Presidents like Trump and Obama.
 
“No President should abuse their power and overreach on executive actions. When a President takes an executive action, I think it’s important that it moves the country forward, not backwards,” Baldwin said.
 
“And the President should be taking actions that make it easier for people to get ahead, not harder. Many of President Trump’s first actions didn’t follow this rule as he moved to take people’s health care away and make it harder and more expensive for first time home buyers to own a home,” Baldwin said in a statement.
 
“I am however in support of his actions on unfair trade deals. Withdrawing from TPP and moving to renegotiate NAFTA are good first steps to keep his promise to Wisconsin workers,” Baldwin said.
 
U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) declined to weigh in on the question of executive orders.
 
However, he issued this statement regarding Trump's inauguration and policy priorities going forward.
 
“I look forward to working with President Trump and his administration to repair the damage inflicted by Obamacare, reduce the burden of overregulation on our economy, and restore our nation’s ability to deal with the world from a position of strength," Johnson said in part following the inauguration.

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