by Hank Boerner
So — House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner does not like the flow of Executive Orders coming out of the Obama White House. And he intends to sue the President. As Speaker Boehner criticizes our chief executive officer, the Executive Orders continue to flow. The most recent EO focus: a new effort to address the nation’s immigration system,,,on his own, without congressional action.
Speaker Boehner would definitely not like to have been around when another high-profile elected Republican lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — 100 years later to still be considered a “Master of EOs” — that was President Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th President.
“TR” is acknowledged as the chief executive officer who created the modern presidency. Characteristics that have described the man: active, energetic, extremely smart, both populist-and-conservative, outdoorsman, conservationist, big game hunger, cowboy, Eastern establishment, author, soldier, statesman, scholar, Nobel Peace prize winner, Harvard dandy…and more. That was our Teddy. (Yes, the Teddy Bear is named for him.)
President Roosevelt in his time faced a Congress that was at times hostile to his ideas, and often “absent” from the Capitol. In the early 1900s, members of the House were elected in November and took office in January; the President was elected in November and sworn in early in March. (The direct election of member of the US Senate would come with the 18th Amendment after TR left office.) So the US Congress could meet and then go home before the new president even arrived on the scene.
The Republican leadership was not always pleased to have their Teddy down the street in the White House. TR was kicked upstairs by leaders of his own party to the vice presidency to get him out of the way, and then President William McKinley, Jr. was assassinated, and as fellow Republican US Senator Mark Hannah famously said in 1901: “Now look. That damned cowboy is President of the United States!”
One of issues that the President had was that as TR won election to his full term as President in 1904, he announced that he would not run for a third term, following the tradition all the way back to the precedent set by President George Washington. And so, he became “lame duck” as he set out in his second term; often the Congress could ignore him (and both Republicans and Democrats often did).
But Teddy would not be ignored! He issued 1,081 Executive Orders during his 2,728 days in the White House – an average of an EO issued very two-and-one-half days in office! Dozens were EOs that affect us even today, a century later.
Teddy lived by a code. In 1886, long before the White House years, he observed: “It is not what we have that will make us a great nation. It is the way in which we use it.” Speaking of being a “conservative,” he said: ” The only true conservative is the man who resolutely sets his face toward the future.” One of the great essays of President Roosevelt was his “Man in the Arena,” as he observed: It is the man in the arena who should be praised, the man who is out there, fighting the big battles, even if the battles end in defeat. Glory comes to those who “spend themselves in a worthy cause…” Like trying to get things done when occupying the highest elected office in the land.
I think he might have a harder time today (than back in his day) dealing with the political gridlock in our capital city, and with the great philosophical divisions in our society. But he would not duck the good fight – he would be right there in the arena of public opinion, fighting the good fight.
As the great outdoorsman TR worried that the vast frontiers were disappearing in the expansion of the United States of America, he took his pen and signed off on many EOs to single-handedly create national parks, game refuges, national bird sanctuaries, and the National Forest Service. It would be several years after he left office that the present-day National Park Service would be created by the Congress (August 1916, signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson).
Other Presidents – and Their EOs
While TR was an exception in his day, other presidents have used the approach to make things happen. Executive Orders are official documents through which the President of the United States of America manages the operations of the Federal Government. All modern era presidents used them.
According to the official National Archives web site, President Barack Obama has issued 175 orders since 2009, with the record showing: 39 EOs signed in 2009; 35 EOs in 2010; 34 EOs in 2011; 39 EOs in 2012; 20 EOs in 2013; and 8 EOs in 2014 as of today’s Federal Register accounting.
Today, the President said he would take action on his own, without Congress, “…to fix as much of our immigration system as I can…” He directed his team to recommend steps he can take this summer and then he would act on those steps “without delay.”
Expect more EOs to be coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And more howls from up the street on Capitol Hill.
While considering this course of action – we can ask — is President Obama “unusual” in taking such steps? Well…no.
Consider the recent record:
George W. Bush – over 8 years / two terms – issued 291 Executive Orders in his 2,922 days in office
William Clinton – 8 years – 364 EOs over 2,922 days in office
George HW Bush – 4 years – 169 EOs over 1,461 days in office
Ronald Reagan – 8 years – 381 EOs over 2,922 days in office
Richard Nixon – although not serving out his full second term (“Watergate” intervened), he signed off on 346 Executive Orders – that was almost one every few days during his two terms.
(Note source: Per PBS – Nightly News Hour compilation)
The point is – our CEOs are expected to get things done when elected, first or second term, whether lame duck or just starting out. The Executive Order is a powerful tool of the office. As TR demonstrated for his successors down to today, when Congress can’t or won’t act — the modern day President can and will.
Stay Tuned — this summer and on into the counting days of the Obama Administration we will be seeing more EOs coming. And some will be cheered / others jeered. And the talking heads of cable TV, the prominent Chattering Class, will have lots of material to work with!