Just Wondering: What Exactly Do Trump’s Executive Orders Mean?

Related question: are we all f*cked?

By: Laurel Pantin

Since taking office just four days ago, president Trump has been busy complaining about the media reporting on his crowd size and putting out “alternative facts,” perhaps with the goal of distracting the public from all the executive orders he’s been signing.

But before we can get into those orders, we asked ourselves ‘WTF even is an executive order?’ It may sound naive (and, yes, this comes from an extremely privileged place), but we pretty much trusted whatever executive orders the former administration was doing were good—which is bad—but it is what it is.

But this is as good a time as any: we’re now taking this opportunity to educate ourselves a bit on the issue and find out just what an executive order is, and what it means when Trump signs one.

 

The basics:

As CNN’s Stephen Collinson explained, “an executive order is a statement of policy by the president of the United States. It’s a message to the government departments about how a law should be implemented, and it’s the rules under which the policy of the administration will be followed.” In other words, and as I’ve heard it described elsewhere, and executive order is something like the president’s mission statement. They’re not as long-lasting as a formal law, but they do dictate how different branches of government should treat a particular issue.

While executive orders are legally binding, they can’t reverse a law passed in Congress.

The difference between executive orders and executive action is that an action is a blanket term for all sorts of unilateral decisions made by the president. These also include proclamations, memorandums and proposals.

 

How executive orders are different from laws passed in Congress:

In order for a law to get passed, it has to start in Congress as a bill, which then needs to be signed by both the House and Senate, and finally by the president. Laws can generally be broader in scope than executive orders, and have a better chance of staying in place for a long time. The other difference, which is key, is that laws require many people to sign on to them, whereas an executive order needs to only to come from the president.

 

So….are we f*cked?:

Well, sort of. Trump has been busy passing executive actions reopening efforts already underway to advance the approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, withdrawing America from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and also passing an action that prohibits the granting of American foreign aid to health providers abroad who offer abortion as a family planning measure. U.S. law already prohibits the use of taxpayer dollars to provide abortions here (remember that next time someone argues that they shouldn’t have to pay for abortions...because they’re not…), and it also already prohibits using taxpayer dollars for abortion abroad where abortion is legal. The reason this is scary is because it prevents funding from government and nongovernment sources to health providers in poor countries if abortion, or abortion counseling, is one of the services they provide. This policy was named the “Mexico City policy” because Ronald Reagan introduced it in 1984 in Mexico City.

Since yesterday, there’s been a lot of fear about protecting domestic abortion rights, which is well founded, and if that’s an issue you care about, now is a really good time to get more involved. For the time being, however Roe v. Wade hasn’t been overturned, and American women still have the right to choose. No doubt, however, there are plenty more executive orders to come surrounding all sorts of policy.

The other reason why we might not be *totally* fucked, is that an executive action or order can be overturned by the next incoming president. President Obama did away with many of Bush’s orders, just as Trump is now overturning Obama’s. All the more reason to get out there and vote in 2020.

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