President Joe Biden and aides are getting increasingly prickly about the growing scrutiny of his heavy reliance on executive orders in his first days in office.
The president in just over a week has signed more than three dozen executive orders and directives aimed at addressing the coronavirus pandemic as well as a gamut of other issues including environmental regulations, immigration policies, and racial justice.
On Thursday, he rescinded a regulation that barred U.S. foreign aid from being used to perform or promote abortions. And he also has sought to use the orders to erase foundational policy initiatives by former President Donald Trump, such as halting construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall and reversing a Trump-era Pentagon policy that largely barred transgender people from serving in the military.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that Biden’s early reliance on executive action is at odds with the Democrat’s pledge as a candidate to be a consensus builder.
The liberal New York Times even took notice, running an editorial headlined “Ease up on the Executive Actions, Joe.”
Biden on Thursday framed his latest executive actions as an effort to “undo the damage Trump has done” by fiat rather than “initiating any new law.” During a brief exchange with reporters in the Oval Office after signing two more executive orders, he noted he was working simultaneously to push his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package through Congress.
After being asked by a reporter if he was open to splitting up the relief package, the president responded: “No one requires me to do anything.”
Earlier in the day, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield bristled at the criticism of Biden’s executive orders in a series of tweets, adding, “Of course we are also pursuing our agenda through legislation. It’s why we are working so hard to get the American Rescue Plan passed, for starters.”
In his Senate floor speech Thursday morning, McConnell claimed that Biden as a candidate had declared “you can’t legislate by executive action unless you are a dictator.”
McConnell’s claim was based on Biden’s statement at an October ABC News town hall that there are certain “things you can’t do by executive order unless you’re a dictator.” His remark came during an exchange about how quickly he’d push his plan to raise taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans.