With a pen as their scepter, they "hereby proclaim.” They “order,” “direct," “revoke” and ”declare," rendering commandments in regal language drawn from the deep past. President
Easy come, though, can also mean easy go. As President
Can transgender troops have a life in the armed forces? Not openly under Trump. Under Biden, yes they can. Under who comes next, who knows?
For now, though, the lumbering government is seeing change at light speed.
In Biden's opening days, he put the
Altogether, Biden has brought a transformation both in tone and substance in the earliest days of his presidency. After the bellowing, never-self-questioning Trump, almost anyone would.
Twitter is a dead zone now for seeing what's on a president's mind in the moment. Things are being heard from the
But Biden's expressions of humility and his common courtesies only go so far. When it comes to dismantling a predecessor's legacy with the stroke of a pen and the words “I have hereunto set my hand,” Biden is off to a fierce start and, like many before him, testing the limits of what a president can do by decree.
“A lot of what he has done has been unwinding what Trump had done,” said
Unable to get
For most of his first year in office, until his tax cuts passed in late 2017, Trump chalked up no major legislative achievements despite having Republican control of
“Every president looks for those opportunities," Mayer said. “What Trump did was take the brakes off and do things that previous presidents had not done. He was enamored of his own powers. He was unusually aggressive and didn’t respect the norm-based limits of what presidents ought to do.
“A lot of it was really quite sloppy,” he added. "Shockingly incompetent.”
Trump's orders to restrict entry from some Muslim countries were repeatedly blocked by federal judges until a weakened version passed muster at the
Then there were the federal lands and waters that past presidents had acted to protect from development. Trump had his eye on them.
“For over 100 years, it was the accepted meaning of declaring national monuments that it was a one-way door,” Mayer said. “You couldn’t undeclare a national monument.” But that custom shattered in 2017 with Trump's executive action to review or shrink the protected status of vast acres of national monument lands.
Biden moved to counter that with an order of his own. But his rollout of executive actions several months in the making has not been entirely smooth.
Biden has acknowledged the limits of his early course of unilateralism as he gears up for heavy lifts with
Biden was a bit testy about the pushback when he was asked if
Biden burst out of the gate with several dozen executive actions. It remains to be seen whether he'll surpass the unilateralism of Trump, who signed an average of 55 executive orders a year, the most in any single term since
On this front, the king among presidents is
If executive action is often fleeting, legislation is anything but.
Although there's no permanence in anything
Trump's first executive order, on the day of his inauguration, was directed squarely at unraveling the Affordable Care Act. But presidential decree could not take away what
Biden had an executive order on that matter, too. On Thursday he ordered the law's health insurance markets to reopen for a special sign-up window, giving the uninsured a chance to find coverage in a raging pandemic after the Trump administration had refused to take that step.
He ordered his administration in the same document to examine other Trump health care policies that he may nullify, like certain work requirements for Medicaid and curbs on abortion counselling.
It's all an effort to “to undo the damage Trump has done,” Biden said, and to restore things “which by fiat he changed.”
Now, across the range of public policy, fiat chases fiat.