Unless you just emerged from a cave after 18 months, you might be aware that the United States has a new president. In the two-and-a-half weeks since then, the new President has been incredibly busy signing over a dozen executive actions. What are executive actions? What is the scope of their power? Where does a president get the power to issue them? No Agenda hopes to answer all those questions in our usual nonpartisan, reliable, and truthful way.
What is an Executive Action?
To try and answer in a sentence: executive actions are a president’s official statements telling federal agencies the administration’s policy about an issue and how the agencies should act based on that policy. “Executive action” is an umbrella term that refers to both executive orders and executive memorandum. Who cares about the difference between the two, you might ask? Does it matter that a president issued an executive order for one thing, but an executive memorandum for another? Yes, everyone should care because although the distinctions are slight, they are important. The main distinction is that an executive order must be sent to the Federal Register for an identifying number before it is published. This distinction may seem insignificant, but it is important. Although it has become habit for recent presidential administrations to publish their executive memorandums online, executive memorandums do not legally need to be sent to the Federal Register or even published.
Where does a President get the Power?
A president’s power to issue executive actions is rooted in Article II of the Constitution. Although not explicitly written there, Article II instructs that presidents “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” So, a president’s executive actions cannot create new laws, they must simply enforce current laws enacted by Congress. Despite only having inherent power to issue executive actions, presidents have been issuing them since the time of George Washington.
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