Understanding President Trump's executive orders


When a new president takes office, they often begin their term by issuing executive orders.

An executive order is a legally binding mandate passed by the president to federal agencies within the executive branch of the government, according to NPR News. Executive orders direct the federal government on how to interpret and carry out the law.

“When new presidents take office they have lots of things that they want to do that boil down to changes in how the executive branch is going to run,” said James Battista, political science professor. “[It’s like saying] ‘these are the priorities of the last president. My priorities are different so I’m going to issue lots of executive orders that say ‘stop doing things with those old priorities, now these are your priorities.’”

Battista said the president can issue an executive order to a department or person to do anything within the legal bounds of their job. He said it takes a fair amount of time, even in an emergency, for Congress to move forward so executive orders allow presidents to make faster changes.

“The surprising thing with [President Donald Trump’s] executive orders is not that there were so many that were issued or that they were so big, it’s that they represent strong departures from previous practice and some of them might just be flatly illegal,” Battista said.

Trump has issued seven executive orders, 11 presidential memorandums and two presidential proclamations as of Jan. 30, according to ABC News.

Ban on visas from seven predominantly Muslim countries

President Trump’s travel ban issued on Jan. 27 was directed toward individuals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and has proved to be the most controversial of all. The ban suspends the issuance of visas for citizens from these seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days. The order states that the Department of the State, Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence will compile a list of countries that do not have sufficient vetting standards during the 90-day-period.

“The surprising thing is [that] it affected people who had already taken off who were literally in the air flying to the U.S. at the time,” Battista said. “My understanding of that not being a lawyer is that there are parts of the Immigration and Nationality Act that forbid bans on entry by nationality.”

While seven predominantly Muslim countries were listed in the ban, several Muslim-majority countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates were left off of the list, which many have found baffling.

Reince Priebus, White House Chief of Staff, denied any correlation between Trump’s business dealings and the countries selected for the ban.

The executive order also suspended the U.S. refugee program for 120 days and stops Syrian refugees from entering the country indefinitely. It also suspends the Visa Interview Program, which allowed people to skip the interview process when renewing their visas.

Repeal of the Affordable Care Act

Trump issued an executive order on Jan. 20, which declared he would repeal the Affordable Care Act. The order urged the federal government to prepare for the law’s gradual repeal and directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to delay, waive, defer and grant exemptions from continued implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The order also directs all other executives that are impacted to be flexible with individual states as they attempt to implement supplementary programs.

“The actual issuance executive order doesn’t make a whole lot of difference to anything unless you’re one of the people at Health and Human Services who has to start working on whatever reports are going to be generated,” Battista said. “That’s different from the question of repealing Obamacare which is something that would have to come through Congress. The president can’t just wish it away.”

Build a border wall between U.S. and Mexico

One of Trump’s major promises in his 2016 presidential campaign was to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico Border. Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 25, which directs the Department of Homeland Security to begin planning to build the wall on the U.S. Southern border.

During his campaign, Trump insisted that Mexico would help pay for the wall, but the Mexican president has repudiated any financial responsibility. For this reason, many Americans are currently wondering whether the funds for the wall will come from their taxpayer dollars.

Accelerate the approval process for high priority infrastructure projects

Trump passed an executive order on Jan. 24 which would expedite the process of reviewing and approving infrastructure projects that are considered to be of high-priority. It directs the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality to compile a list of high-priority infrastructure projects based upon consideration of importance to the “general welfare, value to the nation, environmental benefits and other factors,” according to the White House website.

Once these projects have been determined and compiled, it is the chairman’s job to address the appropriate agencies and set concrete deadlines.

Mandate state and federal government to enforce immigration laws

Trump passed an executive order on Jan. 25 declaring that sanctuary cities violate federal law by shielding aliens from being deported from the U.S. The order looks to restore the Secure Communities program, requiring state and local law enforcement to arrest undocumented immigrants.

“If you’re undocumented [and] you see a murder get committed, are you going to talk to the cops? No. You’d be an idiot to talk to the cops because if you talk to them they’re going to check your immigration status and you’ll get sent to detention and booted out of the country so it makes real law enforcement really hard,” Battista said.

Battista said when undocumented people are the victims of crimes they fail to speak with authorities out of fear that their illegal status will be discovered. But local police are not required to investigate anything, according to Battista, and have total discretion on what they choose to pursue.

“In the same way that police departments can have a policy of ignoring small amounts of marijuana, even where marijuana is illegal because it’s not worth the hassle to actually prosecute,” he said.

Lobby ban on Trump’s appointees

Trump placed a lobbying ban on people that have been his political appointees for five years after he is no longer president on Jan. 28.

The order also holds that ethics waivers will no longer be disclosed to the public. All presidential appointees are required to sign an ethics pledge, which was part of former president Obama’s effort to create a more ethical government. Ethics waivers are given to certain appointees depending on special circumstances, which exempt these appointees from the pledge.

Cutting down regulatory burdens

Trump’s latest order, issued Jan 30, states that any new agency regulation needs to identify two pre-existing regulations to be repealed. This limits the amount of new regulations, because an agency must remove two in order to instate one.

Implications of the executive orders

Trump is unable to overturn a law passed by Congress, according to CNN. Executive orders are more frequently used to direct government agencies and departments.

“The most you can take away from it right now is political actors are showing people who they are,” Battista said. “People had uncertainties of what Trump was going to do and what kind of president he was going to be and now we know.”

Ashley Inkumsah is the senior news editor and can be reached at Ashley.inkumsah@ubspectrum.com