As often happens at the start of a presidency, Donald Trump is making use of the unilateral powers he now wields. He’s issued, so far, 12 executive actions — orders and memoranda — which can instantly change the course of American governance without any involvement by Congress. Use of such presidential directives ballooned in the early-to-mid 20th century. Some critics worry they can be overused, even abused, by the inhabitant of the White House.
1. What’s an executive action?
It’s a signed directive from the president that guides operations of the federal government and carries the force of law. The most formal and best known is the executive order. Presidents also can issue memoranda, to direct administrative matters, and proclamations, which can address ceremonial matters (like federal observances) or substantive ones (like trade policy).
2. What gives the president this power?
“The U.S. Constitution does not define these presidential instruments and does not explicitly vest the president with the authority to issue them,” according to the Congressional Research Service. “Nonetheless, such orders are accepted as an inherent aspect of presidential power.”
3. What directives has Trump issued?
The 11 he’s personally signed so far include a memorandum directing the U.S. trade representative to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership; memoranda reviving construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines; an executive order cutting federal funds to “sanctuary cities” that decline to enforce certain U.S. immigration laws; and a memorandum ordering “expedited reviews of and approvals for” new and expanded manufacturing facilities. (His chief of staff, Reince Priebus, also signed a memorandum, upping the Trump’s administration’s total to 12.) Trump’s very first directive, an executive order stating his desire “to seek the prompt repeal” of the Affordable Care Act, left many