Barack Obama is on track to take more executive actions than any president in the last 70 years — so is he brave or power-mad?

With two years still ahead of him, the President has issued 195 executive orders so far

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The Independent Online

With his lawyer background, Barack Obama doubtless knew he was setting a trap for himself when he declared, as a candidate in 2007, that the then President, George W Bush, was guilty of “executive over-reach”, using his legal druthers to the limit to make things happen while short-circuiting Congress.

“These last few years we’ve seen an unacceptable abuse of power at home,” he said. “We’ve paid a heavy price for having a President whose priority is expanding his own power.”

Mr Obama has been treading the same tricky path. Yesterday, the American Centre for Law and Justice filed a brief in federal court on behalf of 17 members of Congress and 24 states who are suing to reverse the President’s sweeping order to shield five million illegal immigrants from deportation.

In his State of the Union Address this year Mr Obama warned that, in face of Republican resistance to his agenda, he wouldn’t hesitate to go it alone when possible. “Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,” he vowed. Hence the immigration order, issued in November in the form of presidential memoranda.

But the “where possible” is the issue. Much of the existing jurisprudence on what a president can and cannot do can be traced back to President Harry Truman’s decision in 1952 to seize the US steel industry when output, critical to the war effort in Korea, was being threatened by a strike. In a rare rebuke, the US Supreme Court ruled the action unconstitutional.


Mr Obama says he was forced into assisting undocumented workers because of the failure of Congress to move forward on immigration reform. That something has to be done is unarguable. Existing immigration policies in this country are a counterproductive mess.

Yet the same concerns he raised in 2007 remain legitimate today. This White House and the Democrats know this. Their answer has been to point out that Mr Obama has issued fewer so-called executive orders than any two-term president in the past 50 years, including George W Bush.

That is disingenuous. As USA Today catalogued yesterday, if you look at executive orders and so-called executive memoranda, which offer a president two different mechanisms for unilateral action with roughly the same legal punch – Mr Obama is on track to take more high-level executive actions than any president since Harry Truman almost seven decades ago.

With two years still ahead of him, Mr Obama had, as of Tuesday, issued 195 executive orders, ranging from making Boxing Day a holiday for federal workers to imposing his own sanctions on Iran and Russia. But he has more quietly tried to move the needle on public policy through the release of 198 presidential memoranda. Just this week he declared Alaska’s Bristol Bay off limits to oil exploration.

His boldness drives the other side crazy. To them this is evidence of a power-mad President foisting his left-wing, nay socialist, agenda on the country by fiat. But if you are an Obama partisan it’s all good.

Yet, America is proud of what the founders drew up as their form of government and Mr Obama is as guilty of jeopardising that framework as any president before him. Maybe more so. An imperial presidency was never mean to be. From a policy standpoint it would be a shame, but his unilateral steps on immigration may be where the courts call him out. As they did Truman.