EDITORIAL by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Nothing new among Trump's executive orders
, February 11, 2017
In the recent history of America, including at the accession of President Barack Obama in 2008, it has become common for the incoming president to signal his new direction through the issuing of executive orders, on taking office.
While there has been outrage at Trump’s actions, these are a normal part of the American political process.
Barack Obama signed nine executive orders in his first week after coming to office, including one that permitted the funding of the global abortion provider International Planned Parenthood, which had been defunded by the Bush Administration. Over the course of his presidency, Obama signed 276 executive orders, according to the American Presidency Project.
Almost every American President since George Washington has issued executive orders. Their authority is based on the fact that the President heads the executive arm of government in the United States, and these orders are directives to federal government departments. They have the force of law in the U.S. They are the equivalent of administrative actions by Australian government ministers, which do not require specific parliamentary approval.
Historically, some of the most important actions taken by US Presidents have been done by executive order. President Lincoln’s Proclamation Order in 1863, which declared that all slaves held in the United States were to be freed, is perhaps the most famous.
Others have included President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 order to outlaw racial discrimination in the national defence industries. This was just one of Roosevelt’s 3,721 such orders during the Depression years and World War II.
In 1933 at the height of the Depression, Roosevelt used an executive order to create the Civil Works Administration, creating about 4 million new government jobs. He also used an order to create the Export/Import Bank. And he used an order to create the Rural Electrification Administration to bring electricity to undeveloped parts of the country.
No surprises, just promises kept
Within 10 days of taking over the Presidency on 20 January, Donald Trump had signed seven executive orders and 11 presidential memoranda that broadly implement the plan he set out last October.
President Trump clearly decided to use his first executive orders to establish the direction of the new Administration, and to reverse some of the more odious policies of the Obama Administration, including its funding for Planned Parenthood.
His first executive order was to foreshadow the repeal of Obama’s signature policy, Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, by permitting the heads of all government agencies to waive requirements of the Affordable Care Act to the “maximum extent permitted by law”.
His first two presidential memoranda were to terminate the funding of international abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, and to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement that had been promoted by the Obama administration.
The new President froze employment by U.S. government agencies, except the defence forces, and signed memoranda approving the expedited construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline, two multibillion-dollar oil pipeline construction projects that had been frozen by the Obama administration.
President Trump also directed the Commerce Secretary to come up with a plan to ensure that all pipelines built or repaired in the U.S. be constructed with American-made steel “to the maximum extent possible”, and conduct a review of regulations for American manufacturers, with the aim of finding ways to speed up the regulatory process for them.
He also ordered that environmental evaluation of projects of national importance should be accelerated.
On national defence, he issued memoranda calling for both a plan to defeat Islamic State and for the rebuilding of American defence forces, including its strategic nuclear forces, “to ensure that the United States nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats, and reassure our allies”.
Mexico border fence on order
President Trump signed two executive orders, one ordering preparatory work to begin on the construction of a fence along the Mexican border; the other ordering the deportation of illegal immigrants involved in criminal activity, or people suspected of being a threat to U.S. security.
He also signed an order, most controversially, for a 90-day freeze on the entry into the U.S. of people from seven high-risk of terrorism countries – Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen – and the temporary suspension of entry of refugees for 120 days, subject to various conditions, including permitting the entry of refugees facing persecution in their home countries. These are subject to monthly review.
Trump’s orders are no different from those that were implemented by previous Presidents. They reflect his publicly stated policies, and are subject to legal challenge. Their implementation will undoubtedly strengthen and protect the United States.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.