Great moments in headlines: “Obama warns Trump not to overuse executive orders”

“With about one month to go before he leaves office, President Barack Obama gave some exit interview-type advice to his successor Donald Trump: Don’t rely too heavily on executive orders.” [UPI on NPR interview] We already knew from his own famous 2014 proclamation that Mr. Obama has a pen and a phone, and now it seems he’s got a piquant sense of humor as well.

On a more serious note: it is sometimes suggested that Obama’s use of executive power is unexceptionably normal since he has averaged fewer executive order issuances per year than other recent presidents. But that is a thoroughly meaningless statistic, since it lumps together, say, renamings of public buildings with the imposition by fiat of broad legislation Congress has refused to pass. It’s a number that can readily be cooked, should a White House wish to do so, by taking pains to consolidate as single orders measures that otherwise would be signed individually, or by issuing directives under alternative formats such as presidential memoranda or, at the agency level, “Dear Colleague” letters. Much more about the malleability of the category in this USA Today December 2014 piece by Gregory Korte. E.g.: “President George W. Bush established the Bob Hope American Patriot Award by executive order in 2003. Obama created the Richard C. Holbrooke Award for Diplomacy by memorandum in 2012.”

Obama’s own 2014 description of his plans, and his White House’s stage-management of “We Can’t Wait” demonstrations in support of unilateral executive action, speak for themselves. P.S. Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler went over some of this ground in 2014.

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