(AP)—President Joe Biden and aides showed touches of prickliness Thursday over growing scrutiny of the new president’s heavy reliance on executive orders in his first days in office.
The president in just over a week has already 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.
Biden has also 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 New York Times editorial board on Thursday ran an opinion piece headlined “Ease up on the Executive Actions, Joe.”
Biden, for his part, 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 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 offered a misleading broadside that Biden as a candidate had declared “you can’t legislate by executive action unless you are a dictator.”
In fact, Biden at an October ABC News town hall had 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.
Biden and aides, including top White House economists, have said that they believe executive action is a pale substitute for legislative action. At the same time, they’ve defended the heavy use of executive action at the start of the administration as a necessary stopgap to address the worst public health crisis in more than a century and reverse some of Trump’s policies.