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Why Trump May Not Undo All of Obama's Executive Actions During His Presidency

Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
In some cases, President-elect Donald Trump may want to keep executive orders that align with his campaign promises.

From Texas Standard:

Before President Barack Obama leaves office, for the final time, the Chicago Tribune reports Obama plans to issue more executive pardons and clemency orders.

Executive actions have been a motif of the Obama era – or at least, that's how many Republicans see it - with him pushing the envelope on executive power with unilateral orders and agency policies that have allowed him to bypass a recalcitrant Congress.

According to PEW research, Obama has averaged fewer executive orders per year in office than any U.S. president in 120 years. But that fact hasn’t stopped President-elect Donald Trump from his rallying cry of repealing them all during his term in office.


Brandon Rottinghaus, professor at the University of Houston, says Trump’s threats could just be hyperbole.

“We tend to try to campaign in poetry but people govern in IKEA instructions,” he says. “There's so many complex interconnected things that if you do it wrong it's hard to make it right. And if you do it right the first time it's hard to undo it. This is one of the problems of future presidents coming in trying to undo this kind of knotty, thorny mess of the interconnected rules."

That could be part of Obama’s strategy in issuing executive orders, Rottinghaus says.

"There's a defensive-offensive strategy here,” he says. “And that is to knot up so much of politics and the bureaucracy that it's hard to undo it – and pulling one string like a poorly woven sweater's not gonna get it done."

Rottinghaus says it’s unlikely Trump will get rid of all of Obama's executive actions, despite the president-elect's promise to do so within his first 100 days in office. But both the Obama administration and Republicans have politicized some orders that Trump may have to act on them.

These include Obama upping the minimum wage, requiring sick leave and banning discrimination of LGBT people where federal contractors are concerned.

"These are all issues that have political and social implications and that run afoul of the Republicans and their generally conservative philosophy in terms of executive power but also specifically in terms of some of the economic issues," Rottinghaus says.

But some of Obama’s executive actions in line with policies Trump campaigned on, so he may be less likely to move on them – orders like the one that established a White House Office of Urban Affairs or the White House Council on Women and Girls.

"The optics of eliminating those would be problematic,” Rottinghaus says. “There are some that would legitimately resonate positively with [President-elect] Trump's agenda.”

Trump might especially keep orders that encourage jobs, Rottinghaus says.

"Ideologically there may not be a match, but certainly it's the case that he would agree with the premise that we need more jobs," he says.

Rottinghaus says it’s also unlikely Trump will use the power of executive action during his time in office since Congress is predominantly Republican.

“Most presidents don't frankly use this as a lever of power, especially with the … majority of Congress where you can legislate, as opposed to acting unilaterally,” he says. “Acting with Congress is far superior for presidents because it establishes something more stable. You have better funding and you have more permanence."

Written by Beth Cortez-Neavel.

Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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