Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to President Obama, asked
a question of increasing relevance yesterday: "Remember when the GOP thought that signing executive orders during the week and playing golf on the weekend would cause the Republic to fall?"Why, yes, I do remember that.As Donald Trump's 100th day as president quickly approaches, the White House has found itself with a difficult rhetorical pitch. On the one hand, Trump continues to say that the 100-day standard is "ridiculous" and unimportant, and the media's preoccupation with the metric is a needless distraction. On the other hand, Trump and his team are desperate to tell everyone what an amazing 100-day stretch it's been for the Republican administration. (The New York Times' headline
on this was perfect: "Trump Wants It Known: Grading 100 Days Is 'Ridiculous' (but His Were the Best")With this in mind, the Trump White House issued a press statement
today insisting that this president "has accomplished more in his first 100 days than any other President since Franklin Roosevelt." As proof, the White House's press office noted, "President Trump will have signed 30 executive orders during his first 100 days" -- the most seen from any chief executive since World War II.Broadly speaking, there are two ways to look at this boast from Team Trump. The first is to focus on substance, which doesn't do the White House any favors. The Guardian
had a good report
on this yesterday:
From the desk of the Oval Office to the podium at rallies filled with throngs of supporters, Trump has hailed his executive actions as "big stuff" and "very, very important". The flick of his pen is promoted by the White House a major "win" and a promise kept to voters."TRUMP TAKES ACTIONS TO GET WASHINGTON OUT OF THE WAY," blared the subject line of one email blast touting a rollback federal regulations.But an analysis of Trump's executive actions as he nears the 100th day of his presidency on Saturday -- which thus far includes 25 executive orders, 24 memorandums and 20 proclamations -- show that Trump's actions are more cosmetic than they are substantive. Many of the actions establish big goals, but few provide legislative prescriptions. They order agency reviews and studies, ask for recommendations or tinker at the margins of existing law.
Some of these measures, in other words, are less examples of governing and more examples of issuing glorified press releases. The Guardian
spoke to Cristina Rodríguez, a law professor at Yale University who covers constitutional and administrative law, who explained, "A lot of it is for show."An NBC News analysis
added yesterday that upon inspection, some of the executive orders the White House is now bragging about "amount to little more than optional advice for the government -- not binding reforms."And then there's the jaw-dropping hypocrisy. The Associated Press reported
White House aides said that Trump will have signed 32 executive orders by Friday, the most of any president in their first 100 days since World War II. That's a far cry from Trump's heated campaign rhetoric, in which he railed against his predecessor's use of executive action late in his tenure as President Barack Obama sought to maneuver around a Republican Congress. Trump argued that he, the consummate deal maker, wouldn't need to rely on the tool."The country wasn't based on executive orders," said Trump at a town hall in South Carolina in February 2016. "Right now, Obama goes around signing executive orders. He can't even get along with the Democrats, and he goes around signing all these executive orders. It's a basic disaster. You can't do it."
That's really just the start. A Democratic source yesterday alerted me to a collection of Trump quotes on the subject, and I was reminded anew of just how important Trump used to consider his condemnations of presidents who rely on executive orders to act.In January 2016, for example, Trump told Fox News, "[T]he problem with Washington, they don't make deals. It's all gridlock. And then you have a president that signs executive orders because he can't get anything done. I'll get everybody together." In November 2015, in reference to Obama, Trump added, "He doesn't work the system. That is why he signs executive orders all the time because he can't get his own people to go along." A month earlier, Trump said, "Look at Obama. He doesn't get anything done.... You've got to close the door and get things done without signing your executive orders all the time. That's the easy way out."This posture continued throughout his candidacy. As recently as late September 2016, Trump complained, "Right now, we have an executive-order president. He just keeps signing."In March 2016, with his hold on the GOP nomination nearly complete, Trump went so far as to declare, "I want to not use too many executive orders, folks. Executive orders sort of came about more recently. Nobody ever heard of an executive order. Then all of a sudden Obama, because he couldn't get anybody to agree with him, he starts signing them like they're butter. So I want to do away with executive orders for the most part."Perhaps the best quote of them all is from January 2016, when Trump told CNN his thoughts on the "executive-order concept." The explained at the time, "You know, it's supposed to be negotiated. You're supposed to cajole, get people in a room, you have Republicans, Democrats, you're supposed to get together and pass a law. [Obama] doesn't want to do that because it's too much work. So he doesn't want to work too hard. He wants to go back and play golf."I'm afraid the voters who took this rhetoric seriously really were played for suckers.* Update
: It looks like the White House botched some of the research that went into this morning's press release, and miscounted
some previous presidents' executive-order totals.