In the first 11 days of the Trump administration, the president has signed five executive orders, two presidential proclamations, eight presidential memorandums, and one actual bill. Some of these he did quietly, for others he put on a big show for the cameras. Gone are the days when Fox News complained about presidents leading by “executive fiat.” Also gone are the days when senators called the president “lawless” for exercising executive power.
There has been a lot of speculation that Trump is relying on official White House Nazi Steve Bannon and policy wonk Steve Miller to write many of these executive actions without consulting the relevant federal agencies, members of congress, or anyone really.
It would be scary, except that many of them don’t actually do anything. Let’s take a look at a sample:
Presidential Memorandum No. 1 — This puts on hold all new federal regulations for 60 days while the administration reviews them. That’s pretty standard. The new president wants to head off any regulations (or deregulations) that the previous administration tried to push through at the last minute.
Senate Bill 81 — This is a waiver to allow Gen. James Mattis (ret.) to become Secretary of Defense without having to wait the legally required seven years after leaving active duty. There is a reason why we have the law in place just as there is a reason why we have civilian leadership of our military. But Mattis is the least objectionable cabinet choice Trump has put forth, so what are you gonna do?
Executive Order No. 1 — Ostensibly, this order begins the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act by ordering the relevant federal agencies to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay” enforcement. But what does it really do? Not much. The provisions of the ACA are written into law. The president can’t change laws with executive orders as the Republicans screamed over and over again during the Obama administration (I’m looking at you Sen. Ted “Obama is lawless” Cruz). So it’s mostly a vaguely worded prop for a photo op.
Presidential Memorandum No. 2 — This one is a killer. Literally. People will die as a result of this executive action. This reinstates the “Mexico City Policy” which provides that non-governmental organizations around the world that receive federal funds, can’t provide any information about abortion to people. It doesn’t prohibit providing abortions (that’s covered by the Hyde Amendment). It prevents organizations from talking about abortion. It’s colloquially known as the “global gag rule” and it started with Reagan. Democratic presidents always rescind it. Republican presidents always enact it. When it is in effect, the number of unsafe abortions (particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa) increase, as does the death rate for women seeking unsafe abortions.
Presidential Memorandum No. 3 — This one hits veterans particularly hard. It instituted a federal hiring freeze. This is the sort of broad pronouncement that feels good on paper but has unforeseen consequences. For example, the federal government has a policy in place to help returning veterans by giving them priority in hiring. This makes that policy useless. The VA, which has been under fire for years now, is in the middle of trying to address its inadequacies by staffing up. “When you have a system that’s not working, and then going out and hiring additional people doesn’t seem to be the most efficient way of solving the problem,” said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, ignoring the fact that the problem with the VA is a backlog of cases due to the lack of staff. Again, people will die because of this policy.
Presidential Memorandum No. 4 — This is another prop for a photo opp. It says the United States will pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Whether you’re for it or against it, the US hasn’t ratified the TPP, so this memo accomplishes exactly nothing.
Presidential Memorandum No. 5 — Another photo opp prop. It was sold as a means of increasing manufacturing in the United States. But it doesn’t actually do anything, except tell federal agencies to hustle up and maybe get some public input or something about how to streamline the processes of approvals.
Executive Order No. 2 — Is another vaguely worded order to hustle up. This one aimed at infrastructure projects. Federal infrastructure projects are regulated by laws and executive orders can’t do much to speed up these processes. So, it’s another prop.
Presidential Memoranda Nos. 7 and 8 — These call for the Dakota Access Pipeline project and the Keystone XL pipeline project to continue. There is a conflict of interest here, in that Trump owns stock in the company that owns the pipelines. For Dakota Access, the construction will require bulldozing sacred Native American burial grounds (Do you want poltergeists? Because that’s how we get poltergeists.) and puts the water supply of thousands of people at risk. I have a hard time understanding why conservatives don’t seem to care about bulldozing burial sites when they also want to force women to have funeral services for aborted embryos. For Keystone XL, the company building it is unlikely to start the project again because they’re in the middle of a lawsuit against the US government for stopping it. Or they were anyway.
Executive Order No. 3 — This one is nefarious in that it calls for cutting off federal funds to so-called “sanctuary cities.” The head of DHS gets to decide what constitutes a “sanctuary city” and federal agencies are ordered to look for ways to cut off funds in order to force local law enforcement agencies to become immigration enforcement agencies. This has a number of problems, not the least of which being police forces across the country trying to build trust with the communities they serve. Then there are states like California (which pays more in federal taxes than it receives in federal benefits), who are looking at ways to cut off payments to the federal government in response to this action.
Executive Order No. 4 — “What are we going to do?” “BUILD THE WALL!” “And who’s going to pay for it?” “Well, I guess we are? I mean, Mexico says they’re not, so who’s left?”
Proclamation No. 2 — Trump declares “National School Choice Week.” This is nothing. It accomplishes nothing. It means nothing. It does nothing.
Executive Order No. 5 — This one should be called “It’s so bad thousands of people voluntarily went to the airport.” This was poorly worded, poorly vetted, and made no sense. It barred entry to the US for people coming from nine majority Muslim countries. And while Trump supporters say it isn’t a “Muslim ban” Trump himself said Christians will be given priority. Rudy Guiliani said the president asked him to figure out how to legally implement a Muslim ban. The best defense Trump supporters can make is “Well, at least he’s trying something.” By all accounts, Bannon and Miller scribbled this together without consulting the agencies charged with enforcing it. They also didn’t consult congressional leaders, but did consult congressional staff? The result has been a fiasco including whole families with children handcuffed and detained. A federal judge issued a stay the night the ban went into effect to prevent the deportation of those being detained. The Acting Attorney General Sally Yates declared the DoJ wouldn’t defend the ban because she wasn’t sure it was legal, so Trump fired her. Customs and Border Protection agents defied the court order. Now Trump is losing support among Republicans.
Presidential Memorandum No. 9 — Trump wants Soviet and Chinese-style military parades through the streets of Washington, D.C. During the campaign, he called the military a “disaster” and complained at how they have been degraded and aren’t as big as they used to be. This memo does nothing to fix that (and one could argue that it doesn’t need fixing). It’s a prop for a photo opp. The president can’t spend money that congress hasn’t appropriated and this memo doesn’t change that. Also, Trump’s stated goal is to cut federal spending by $10.5 TRILLION over ten years. That’s inconsistent with a military build up.
All these executive actions amount to either nothing or a Constitutional crisis. In any case, the administration seems to be lumbering around crashing into reality, causing the president to reach majority disapproval status in record time, dozens of rogue federal agency twitter accounts to spring up, and a West Wing that leaks more than any in recent memory.