An aide to former President Bill Clinton once described them as “kinda cool.” But to Republicans, executive orders under President Barack Obama -- and Obama’s apparently imminent use of one to overhaul immigration policy -- are unconstitutional, and may even be the impetus for impeachment proceedings.
Republican anger over Obama’s use of executive orders on everything from the minimum wage to gun control is boiling over with the president expected to soon issue his 194th executive order to further push his agenda on immigration. Obama has already issued executive actions on immigration to protect a limited class of illegal immigrants from deportation, but the impending one is broader and would protect some 5 million people from deportation.
Executive orders have been around since George Washington was president. Like legislation, the actions have the power of federal laws, but presidents usually use them “to direct and manage how the federal government operates,” according to the U.S. General Services Administration. Or, as Clinton aide Paul Begala once put it to the New York Times: “Stroke of the pen. Law of the land. Kinda cool.”
Obama isn’t the most prolific signer of executive actions. In fact, among two-term presidents, Obama has signed the fewest executive orders, according to data compiled by the American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Republicans are upset not about the use of such measures, but rather with the content of the orders, according to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
“Congress makes the laws; the president executes them. That is the system the Founders gave us. This is not about executive orders. Every president issues executive orders. Most of them, though, do so within the law,” Boehner wrote in a July opinion piece in USA Today.
Obama has said Congress tied his hands, and that he uses executive actions only “when Congress chooses to do nothing.” The president displayed his frustration when he announced an executive order over the summer on immigration that directed border agents to deal with the crisis of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America flooding the southern border.
"The failure of House Republicans to pass a darn bill is bad for our security, it's bad for our economy and it's bad for our future," he said in late June. "America cannot wait forever for them to act."
Obama’s looming executive order on immigration will be announced on Thursday, according to the White House. His plan contradicts his earlier stance on the use of executive orders for immigration. Obama said in an interview with Telemundo last year, “If we start broadening that, then essentially I’ll be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally. So that’s not an option.”