Donald Trump wants us to know things about him. In a 2014 interview he said that he was told, by many people who know such things, that he was “the best baseball player in New York” – when he was in high school, in 1962, the year that the Yankees won the World Series, with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris – and Yogi Berra, who would go on to say many preposterous things too.
The media shrugged. This wasn’t much of a news story. Perhaps his high school baseball coach – at that military academy where his parents had sent him after he sucker-punched his eight-grade art teacher – had told him that. It made him feel good. He came to believe that. Others must have said that. It became true, so everyone should know this about him – but no one much cared. Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris don’t care. They’re dead – but Donald Trump is a winner. He’s the best – at everything.
Yeah, yeah – that’s what he says – but this baseball thing wasn’t worth arguing about. On the other hand, Donald Trump became the first president in many decades who refused to show up on opening day in Washington and throw the ceremonial first pitch at the Nationals’ game. Was he hiding something? No, this baseball thing wasn’t worth arguing about. There are other things to argue about. There are his executive orders.
Those are better than legislation. Even with a Republican House and a Republican Senate, there been no new legislation in the first one hundred days – nothing at all. There were promises – but Obamacare wasn’t repealed and replaced. That’s a bit embarrassing, but Trump has proudly signed a whole lot of executive orders.
That’s impressive, except that’s as impressive as his baseball skills:
In an effort to show President Trump has had a successful first 100 days, the White House issued a press release Tuesday which incorrectly stated that he had signed more executive orders so far than Franklin Roosevelt.
“In office, President Trump has accomplished more in his first 100 days than any other President since Franklin Roosevelt,” the statement declared, highlighting the 30 Executive Orders he will have signed by his 100th day and noting that was more than FDR, who it claimed only signed nine during the same period of time.
Those familiar with the history of Executive Orders were quick to note that, in fact, FDR signed dozens of Executive Orders in the days between his inauguration in March of 1933 and his 100th day in office that June.
The error was particularly meaningful because Roosevelt originated the entire concept of the “first 100 days” that the White House is responding to.
Oops. He wasn’t the best baseball player in New York either, and Steve Benen sees the problem:
As Donald Trump’s 100th day as president quickly approaches, the White House has found itself with a difficult rhetorical pitch. On the one hand, Trump continues to say that the 100-day standard is “ridiculous” and unimportant, and the media’s preoccupation with the metric is a needless distraction. On the other hand, Trump and his team are desperate to tell everyone what an amazing 100-day stretch it’s been for the Republican administration. (The New York Times’ headline on this was perfect: “Trump Wants It Known: Grading 100 Days Is ‘Ridiculous’ (but His Were the Best”)
The Guardian had also noted this:
From the desk of the Oval Office to the podium at rallies filled with throngs of supporters, Trump has hailed his executive actions as “big stuff” and “very, very important”. The flick of his pen is promoted by the White House a major “win” and a promise kept to voters.
“TRUMP TAKES ACTIONS TO GET WASHINGTON OUT OF THE WAY,” blared the subject line of one email blast touting a rollback of federal regulations.
But an analysis of Trump’s executive actions as he nears the 100th day of his presidency on Saturday – which thus far includes 25 executive orders, 24 memorandums and 20 proclamations – show that Trump’s actions are more cosmetic than they are substantive. Many of the actions establish big goals, but few provide legislative prescriptions. They order agency reviews and studies, ask for recommendations or tinker at the margins of existing law.
And then the Associated Press piled on:
White House aides said that Trump will have signed 32 executive orders by Friday, the most of any president in their first 100 days since World War II. That’s a far cry from Trump’s heated campaign rhetoric, in which he railed against his predecessor’s use of executive action late in his tenure as President Barack Obama sought to maneuver around a Republican Congress. Trump argued that he, the consummate deal maker, wouldn’t need to rely on the tool.
“The country wasn’t based on executive orders,” said Trump at a town hall in South Carolina in February 2016. “Right now, Obama goes around signing executive orders. He can’t even get along with the Democrats, and he goes around signing all these executive orders. It’s a basic disaster. You can’t do it.”
Steve Benen adds this:
In March 2016, with his hold on the GOP nomination nearly complete, Trump went so far as to declare, “I want to not use too many executive orders, folks. Executive orders sort of came about more recently. Nobody ever heard of an executive order. Then all of a sudden Obama, because he couldn’t get anybody to agree with him, he starts signing them like they’re butter. So I want to do away with executive orders for the most part.”
Perhaps the best quote of them all is from January 2016, when Trump told CNN his thoughts on the “executive-order concept.” He explained at the time, “You know, it’s supposed to be negotiated. You’re supposed to cajole, get people in a room, you have Republicans, Democrats, you’re supposed to get together and pass a law. [Obama] doesn’t want to do that because it’s too much work. So he doesn’t want to work too hard. He wants to go back and play golf.”
Donald Trump probably shouldn’t have said that. His presidency, so far, seems to be one-third the nation’s business, one third golf, and one third watching “Fox and Friends” and tweeting out angry responses to what that chirpy morning panel says should make everyone angry – and no baseball at all. In his spare time he signs executive orders.
Those are supposed to be impressive, but Jonathan Chait sees a basic misunderstanding here:
The executive order has become a totem of power for hopeful Republicans, symbolizing their belief that Trump can or will reshape the federal government, despite the collapse of his first and largest legislative initiative. But what Trump’s fixation with executive orders actually reveals is how little he and his party understand about how government works and what it takes to bring about long-lasting change.
This, for example, doesn’t bring about long-lasting change:
One of the new orders will create an office at the Department of Veterans Affairs that will “identify barriers to the Secretary’s authority to put the well-being of our veterans first.” Another will “review prior monument designations [of federal lands] and suggest legislative changes or modifications to the monument proclamations.” Another orders “a review of the locations available for off-shore oil and gas exploration.” And then there is “an interagency task force to examine the concerns of rural America and suggest legislative and regulatory changes to address them.”
These steps are not evidence of a government working productively. They are the kinds of steps that ought to have been taken two years ago by the president when he started his campaign. Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, brought together experts to examine the concerns of rural America and suggest legislative and regulatory changes to address them, and they published their findings in August 2015. Trump has the vague idea that there are laws that are making life too hard for veterans, and fossil-fuel operators, and people in small towns, but he has no idea what those laws are. His “executive orders” are actually just using the government to start the process of designing his campaign platform for him.
He is doing what he should have done a year ago, but these are harmless:
If Republicans wish to pretend that Trump is really making America great again by signing pieces of paper asking people who work for him whether they have any ideas how to make America great again, more power to them. I can think of worse outcomes for this presidency than a theater of pseudo-action.
But that’s not the history behind all this:
After the 2010 midterms deprived Barack Obama of a workable (or even functional) congressional majority, he shifted his attention to executive orders. It was in Obama’s interest to play up the importance of his unilateral actions, and also in the interest of his Republican opponents to denounce these orders in overwrought terms, as oppressive and even unconstitutional. Their belief that Obama had evaded Congress to construct a Leviathan of his own design had a flip side: Once Trump won, Republicans assumed he could undo everything Obama did. After Trump’s election, Republicans giddily predicted a quick erasure of Obama’s legacy. “The reason Obama’s legacy is so vulnerable today,” wrote one columnist, “is that the 44th president relied more on executive actions.”
As the author of a book on Obama’s legacy, I frequently encountered conservatives who believed this. The assumption was strange and confusing – the most important parts of Obama’s legacy revolved around actions that could not be overturned: the economic rescue (stimulus, stress tests, the auto bailout), the massive green-energy investment, education reform, Wall Street regulation, and of course the Affordable Care Act. All these deep reforms, with the exception of the stress tests, required legislation.
That’s how our form of government works and that’s what it takes to bring about long-lasting change. Somehow they forget that, or don’t want to admit that. Nothing is going to change.
They should have realized that. An executive order banning Muslims from entering the county, disguised as a geographic ban, was never going to work. The courts shot that down. The courts shot down the lightly revised version too. There’s actual legislation forbidding such religious discrimination, supporting what’s in the Constitution in the first place. Pass new legislation if that’s what’s necessary. Bold and thundering executive orders don’t “trump” existing law, but here we go again:
A federal judge has blocked a directive from President Donald Trump seeking to deny federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities” and other localities that decline to cooperate in enforcement of federal immigration laws.
San Francisco-based U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday barring federal officials nationwide from carrying out the portion of a Jan. 25 Trump executive order aimed at cutting off grants to local governments that won’t provide assistance to federal authorities in locating and detaining undocumented immigrants.
Existing law got in the way again:
Orrick cited public comments from Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions in concluding that the order appeared intended to sweep more broadly than allowed by federal law. The judge, an Obama appointee, called “not legally plausible” the Justice Department’s arguments that Trump was simply trying to secure compliance with current law.
“If there was doubt about the scope of the Order, the President and Attorney General have erased it with their public comments,” Orrick wrote. “The Constitution vests the spending power in Congress, not the President, so the Order cannot constitutionally place new conditions on federal funds.”
In short, Congress can change the law. Donald Trump cannot, and this came at a bad time:
The ruling is another high-profile blow to Trump’s efforts to use executive orders to carry out major policy moves – a drive his staff is highlighting as he approaches the 100-days-in-office mark. Courts have also blocked key portions of two of the president’s other immigration-related executive orders – his travel bans on citizens of several majority Muslim countries.
However, Orrick noted that his new injunction may not block much of what the Trump administration claimed in court it was trying to do through the portion of the Jan. 25 order targeting sanctuary cities. If all Trump wanted to do was cut off Justice Department grants to localities that are out of compliance with the law, he can still do that, the judge observed.
Those would be Justice Department grants pertaining to immigration. Justice Department grants to buy new police cars are off limits. Federal grants to fix highways and bridges are off limits too.
That was the worry:
Orrick acted on lawsuits brought by the City of San Francisco and nearby Santa Clara County. At least three other suits are pending over the same sanctuary city language in Trump’s immigration-enforcement executive order. Since the judge’s injunction applies nationwide, it could moot those other suits for the time being.
The judge concluded that the California localities were correct to be concerned that their funding was in jeopardy and that the grants affected might be more than just the few the Justice Department said were covered by Trump’s order.
“Although Government counsel has represented that the Order will be implemented consistent with law, this assurance is undermined by Section 9(a)’s clearly unconstitutional directives. Further, through public statements, the President and Attorney General have appeared to endorse the broadest reading of the Order,” Orrick added.
“Is the Order merely a rhetorical device, as counsel suggested at the hearing, or a ‘weapon’ to defund the Counties and those who have implemented a different law enforcement strategy than the Government currently believes is desirable? The result of this schizophrenic approach to the Order is that the Counties’ worst fears are not allayed and the Counties reasonably fear enforcement under the Order,” the judge wrote.
All executive orders are rhetorical devices. The law is not a rhetorical device. Donald Trump needs to get “his” Congress to pass something specific about this, but that, as they say, is like herding cats – nasty cats, with claws out, hissing. They know he’s scared of them. That’s why Obamacare is still around.
The New York Times account also adds this:
Exactly what makes a city or county a sanctuary is a matter of interpretation, but most that present themselves as sanctuaries, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston, limit how much they cooperate with federal immigration authorities, often by refusing to turn over unauthorized immigrants from local jails except under certain conditions or by preventing local police officers from asking about immigration status.
In San Francisco’s case, the city argued that the executive order violated the Constitution by essentially trying to commandeer state and local officials to enforce federal immigration law. In practical terms, San Francisco’s filing said, forcing the city to cooperate with federal immigration agents would threaten public safety by breaking trust between local authorities and immigrants, who the city argued would become less likely to report crimes or serve as witnesses.
There are practical considerations, and this:
In court, lawyers for the government argued that despite Mr. Trump’s vows to end all aid to uncooperative sanctuary jurisdictions, the order was intended to do no more than highlight the president’s commitment to hardening immigration enforcement. No more than a few small grants would be affected, they said.
Judge Orrick’s response: If that were true, what was the point?
Let the guy pose as a strong man, or strongman, on his own time, because the law stands:
He also wrote that because the Constitution gives Congress the federal wallet, the president may not impose new conditions on federal funds to municipalities. The Supreme Court has held that the federal government cannot compel states to administer a federal program, the judge wrote, citing a case with very different partisan battle lines: National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, the 2012 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not withhold Medicaid funding to force states to comply with Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
And, Judge Orrick added, 10th Amendment restrictions on the power of the federal government require that the federal funds at stake be related to the policy in question, so that, for instance, housing funds cannot be yoked to immigration laws.
Now add this:
San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee (D) applauded Orrick’s ruling, saying his jurisdiction “is and will remain a Sanctuary City … If the federal government believes there is a need to detain a serious criminal, they can obtain a criminal warrant, which we will honor, as we always have.”
In short, there is no problem here:
The ruling was also hailed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which had been told by Sessions hours earlier that officials must communicate with immigration officials under federal law.
“The Conference has long opposed the withholding of funds from so-called ‘sanctuary cities,’ which, of course, is a political term not a legal one,” executive director Tom Cochran said in a statement.
This may have been a fight about nothing at all, but there’s a lot of that going around. Take that big wall, please. Eugene Robinson writes about that:
In the annals of pathetic climb-downs this Sunday-morning tweet from President Trump deserves a special place of honor, or perhaps dishonor – “Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall.”
To put those weasel words in context, let me ask a question of all you small-business owners out there. If a customer brings some merchandise to the cash register and promises that one of his neighbors will pay you for it “eventually… at a later date… in some form,” what are your odds of ever seeing that money? How likely is it that “in some form” means cash? Do you let him walk out with the goods, or do you remind him you weren’t born yesterday?
The question answers itself:
Trump apparently believes we are all hopelessly naive. With his presidency nearing the 100-day mark, he is desperate not to have to acknowledge that his outrageous, ridiculous, impossible campaign promises were, in fact, outrageous, ridiculous and impossible.
Somehow that doesn’t matter:
There was nothing ambiguous about his pledge to build a wall along the southern border, with Mexico footing the bill. This is what Trump said in August following his meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who has categorically denied that his country will pay a dime toward the barrier: “Mexico will pay for the wall, believe me, 100 percent. They don’t know it yet, but they will pay for the wall.”
So he wants U.S. taxpayers to pay for the thing, amid ever-more-vague promises that Mexico will ante up “in some form” at some future date. Like, never.
The idea of a 2,000-mile, 30-foot-high, “big, beautiful” wall along the entire border was always more of a revenge fantasy than an actual proposal.
The executive order to severely punish sanctuary cities was a revenge fantasy too. So was the executive order banning Muslims from entering the county, disguised as a geographic ban, and the lightly revised version too. So were the other executive orders. TRUMP TAKES ACTIONS TO GET WASHINGTON OUT OF THE WAY!
No. It made him feel good. He came to believe that. Others must have said that. It became true, so everyone should know this about him – he’s getting things done. Sure, and in 1962 he was the best baseball player in New York. Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were losers.