President Joe Biden and aides on Thursday pushed back against growing criticism of the president’s heavy reliance on executive orders in his first days in office, after The New York Times ran an op-ed arguing “this is no way to make law” and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested Biden was acting like a “dictator.”
Biden, in just over a week, has already signed more than three dozen executive orders and directives aimed at addressing the pandemic and a spate of other issues including environmental regulations and immigration policies. He has also sought to use the orders to erase foundational policy initiatives by former President Donald Trump, such as halting the 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.
The left-leaning New York Times editorial board, which endorsed Biden for president and lauded his win, ran a piece on Thursday headlined “Ease up on the Executive Actions, Joe,” arguing that “this is no way to make law.”
Calling Biden’s directives a “flawed substitute for legislation,” the editorial board argued that they “are not meant to serve as an end run around the will of Congress.”
McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor on Thursday, said that Biden’s early reliance on executive action is at odds with the Democrat’s pledge as a candidate to be a consensus builder.
“As recently as October, now-President Biden said you can’t legislate by executive action unless you are a dictator. Well, in one week, he signed more than 30 unilateral actions,” McConnell said.
The Kentucky Republican was referring to remarks Biden made at an October ABC News town hall, when he said there are certain “things you can’t do by executive order unless you’re a dictator” during an exchange about how quickly he’d push his plan to raise taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans. But while the full context of Biden’s statement suggests he was not criticizing all executive orders as hallmarks of a dictatorship, his remarks have nevertheless opened him up to allegations of hypocrisy and executive overreach.
McConnell took aim at Biden’s executive orders that canceled the Keystone XL pipeline permit and that imposed a moratorium on new leases on oil and gas drilling on federal land and waters, arguing the moves undercut America’s energy independence and threaten jobs.
“According to one study, the decision on federal lands will leave us down nearly one million American jobs by next year alone,” McConnell said. “It’s a heck of a way to kick off a presidency.”
Biden, during a brief exchange with reporters in the Oval Office after signing two more executive orders on Thursday, framed his latest executive actions as an effort to “undo the damage Trump has done” rather than “initiating any new law.” He noted he was working to persuade lawmakers in Congress to pass his $1.9 trillion pandemic aid package by means of a legislative process.
White House communications director Kate Bedingfield bristled at the New York Times’ criticism of Biden’s executive orders in a series of tweets, saying, “I can’t help but recall that during the primary they encouraged voters to consider what a president could accomplish” through executive action.
“Of course we are also pursuing our agenda through legislation,” she added. “It’s why we are working so hard to get the American Rescue Plan passed, for starters.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended Biden’s heavy use of executive action as a justified reversal of some of Trump’s policies.
“There are steps, including overturning some of the harmful, detrimental, and, yes, immoral actions of the prior administration that he felt he could not wait to overturn, and that’s exactly what he did,” she said.
Some of Biden’s bevy of executive actions that roll back Trump-era policies include halting funding for border wall construction, freezing approval of rules passed in the final days of the Trump presidency, scrapping a number of Trump’s regulatory restrictions on federal agencies, and ordering illegal immigrants to be incorporated into the census.