New presidents promise or hint at many things which they can’t personally deliver without the support of Congress, the courts, foreign leaders or the American people in general. In fact, outside of starting (or ending) wars, hosting huge parties or granting the odd pardon here and there, the list of things the Oval Office occupant can do in single handed fashion is fairly limited. The one exception to this rule, however, is the Presidential Executive Order. (You can take a tour of all the orders signed by George W. Bush here.) According to this report from the Washington Post, Barack Obama may be poised to get busy with that fountain pen and make some big changes in his first days in office.
Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues, according to congressional Democrats, campaign aides and experts working with the transition team.
In some instances, Obama would be quickly delivering on promises he made during his two-year campaign, while in others he would be embracing Clinton-era policies upended by President Bush during his eight years in office.
It should be noted that members of the transition team are not being pinned down to specific orders to be signed right off the bat, but a list of expected actions is provided. Here are a few of the highlights.
Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Obama has proved a crafty and canny politician, so frankly I’m surprised he would want to jump into that particular pool of quicksand on day one, but I suppose anything is possible. Debate is still raging in the scientific community over how necessary this research is as compared to emerging and competing forms of science using other types of stem cells, along with questions as to how much President Bush’s restrictions really slowed the process down. More to the point, though, is the fact that this issue is intentionally designed to stir up the abortion debate. Thanks to a failing economy and a secondary focus on two wars and foreign policy issues, Obama managed to skate through most of Election 08 without having to wrestle that particular octopus to the ground. Moving immediately on it could send a signal of wanting to poke a stick in the eye of hard Right Christian conservative who are already frothing mad about his election, at precisely the time he’s supposed to be bringing the country together.
The Global Abortion Gag Order: This one goes pretty much hand in hand with the first item.
The new president is also expected to lift a so-called global gag rule barring international family planning groups that receive U.S. aid from counseling women about the availability of abortion, even in countries where the procedure is legal, said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he rescinded the Reagan-era regulation, known as the Mexico City policy, but Bush reimposed it.
Much like the stem cell issue, this one is bound to enrage the far Right, but given the makeup of Obama’s base and the fact that the policy was successfully employed during the Clinton years, I doubt he’ll try to duck out of this one.
California Auto Emission Standards: President Bush stopped California from obtaining an exception which would have allowed them to limit automobile greenhouse gas emissions beyond national restrictions over the next eight years. Obama is expected to reverse that decision and approve the exception. This will go over quite well with his more progressive base and I expect him to sign off on this. The blowback might be greater than anticipated, though. Such orders may place even more pressure on an auto industry already begging for another bailout and the result may be more expensive cars in California. If this comes at a time of spiraling job losses and tight consumer wallets, the intent may be something everyone wants but the results could prove a net negative.
Many of George W. Bush’s critics coined the term The Imperial Presidency in anger over his interpretation of Executive power and his wide ranging use of instruments such as signing statements and Executive Orders. It will be interesting to see how these critics react if the newly minted President Obama avails himself of these same powers to swerve the government’s direction the opposite way.