Bench Memos

White House Misdirection on Executive Powers

President Obama’s aggressive use or abuse of his executive powers is arousing intense controversy. On the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, Bowdoin politics professor Andrew Rudalevige explains very clearly how the White House’s primary line of defense—that Obama has issued fewer executive orders than most of his recent predecessors—is an exercise in misdirection. Executive orders, after all, are merely one type of presidential directive, whereas the controversy

is about executive actions more broadly. While Obama issued only 20 executive orders in 2013 (the lowest single-year total in more than a century), that same year he issued 41 presidential memoranda to the heads of departments and agencies, along with nine additional presidential “determinations” designed to serve as the basis for bureaucratic behavior.

And there are lots of other avenues for that. We could include regulatory action, signing statements, legal interpretations, and administrative orders technically issued by department heads but at the behest of the White House.  

Rudalevige then runs through “a few of the greatest hits [eight, actually] touted by those who feel Obama has abused his executive authority” and points out that none involved Obama’s use of a formal executive order. (H/t Jonah Goldberg.)


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