Executive orders are assigned numbers and published in the federal register, similar to laws passed by Congress, and typically direct members of the executive branch to follow a new policy or directive.
Presidential memoranda do not have to be published or numbered (though they can be), and usually delegate tasks that Congress has already assigned the president to members of the executive branch.
Finally, while some proclamations like President Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation have carried enormous weight, most are ceremonial observances of federal holidays or awareness months.
Scholars have typically used the number of executive orders per term to measure how much presidents have exercised their power. George Washington only signed eight his entire time in office, according to theAmerican Presidency Project, while FDR penned over 3,700.
In his two terms, President Barack Obama issued 277 executive orders, a total number on par with his modern predecessors, but the lowest per year average in 120 years.
Here’s a quick guide to the executive actions Trump has made so far, what they do, and how Americans have reacted to them:
The order requires appointees to every executive agency to sign an ethics pledge saying they will never lobby a foreign government and that they won’t do any other lobbying for five years after they leave government.
Presidential Memorandum, January 28: Reorganizing the National and Homeland Security Councils
Chief White House strategist Steve Bannon.AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
Trump removed the nation’s top military and intelligence advisers as regular attendees of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, the interagency forum that deals with policy issues affecting national security.
The executive measure established Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, as a regular attendee, and disinvited the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence to attend only when necessary.
Top Republican lawmakers and national security experts roundly criticized the move, expressing their skepticism that Bannon should be present and alarm that the Joint Chiefs of Staff sometimes wouldn’t be.
Protesters assemble at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 after earlier in the day two Iraqi refugees were detained while trying to enter the country.Associated Press/Craig Ruttle
In Trump’s most controversial executive action yet, he temporarily barred people from majority-Muslim Iran, Iraq,Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from entering the country for 90 days, and Syrians from entering until he decides otherwise.
Federal judges in several states declared the order unconstitutional, releasing hundreds of people who were stuck at US airports in limbo.The White House continues to defend the action, insisting itwas “not about religion” but about “protecting our own citizens and border.”
Presidential Memorandum, January 27: ‘Rebuilding’ the military
Marine General James Mattis.US Marine Corps
This action directedSecretary of Defense James Mattis to conduct a readiness review of the US military andBallistic Missile Defense System, and submit his recommendations to “rebuild” the armed forces.
Presidential proclamation, January 26: National School Choice Week
Thousands rally in support of charter schools outside the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Tuesday, March 4, 2014.AP Images
Trump proclaimedJanuary 22 through January 28, 2017 asNational School Choice Week.
The ceremonial move aimed to encourage people to demandschool-voucher programs and charter schools, of which Trump’s Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos is a vocal supporter. Meanwhile,opponents arguethat the programs weaken public schools and fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense.
Supporters of then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump chant, “Build that wall,” before a town hall meeting in Rothschild, Wis. on April 2, 2016.Associated Press/Charles Rex Arbogast
Trump outlined his intentions to build a wall along the US border with Mexico, one of his main campaign promises.
The order also directs the immeditate detainment and deportation of illegal immigrants, and requires state and federal agencies tally up how much foreign aid they are sending to Mexico within 30 days, and tells theUS Customs and Border Protection to hire 5,000 additional border patrol agents.
While Trump has claimed Mexico will pay for the wall, his administration has since softened this pledge, indicating US taxpayers may have to foot the bill, at least at first.
Trump called “sanctuary cities” to comply with federal immigration law or have their federal funding pulled.
The order has prompted a mixture of resistance and support from local lawmakers and police departments in the sanctuary cities, which typically refuse to honor federal requests to detain people on suspicion of violating immigration law even if they were arrested on unrelated charges. The city of San Francisco is already suing Trump, claiming the order is unconstitutional.
The first two direct agencies to immediately review and approve construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline, and the third requires all pipeline materials be built in the US.
While pipeline proponents arguethat they transport oil and gas more safely than trains or trucks can, environmentalists say pipelines threaten the contamination of drinking water.
Presidential Memorandum, January 23: Reinstating the ‘Mexico City policy’
Hundreds of thousands of protesters march down Pennsylvania avenue during the Women’s March on Washington January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC to protest newly inaugurated President Donald Trump.Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Image
The move reinstated a global gag rule that bans American non-governmental organizations working abroad from discussingabortion.
Democratic and Republican presidents have taken turns reinstating it and getting rid of it since Ronald Reagan created the gag order in 1984. The rule, while widely expected, dismayed women’s rights and reproductive health advocates, but encouraged antiabortion activists.
This action signaled Trump’s intent to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade deal thatwould lower tariffs for 12 countries around the Pacific Rim, including Japan and Mexico but excluding China.
Results were mixed. Sen. Bernie Sanderssaid he was “glad the Trans-Pacific Partnership is dead and gone,” while Republican Sen. John McCain saidwithdrawing was a “serious mistake.”
Executive Order, January 20: Declaring Trump’s intention to repeal the Affordable Care Act
Then President-elect Donald Trump meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan of Wisconsin on Capitol Hill November 10, 2016.Reuters
One of Trump’s top campaign promises was to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.
His first official act in office was declaring his intention to do so. Congressional Republicans have been working to do just that since their term started January 3, though there’sdissent among Republicans over whether or not to complete the repeal process before a replacement plan is finalized and strident Democratic resistance to any repeal of the ACA.
Presidential Memorandum, January 20: Reince’s regulatory freeze
President-elect Donald Trump and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on election night.Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Trump’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus signed this action, directing agency heads not tosend new regulations to the Office of the Federal Register until the administration has leaders in place to approve them.
Obama’s Chief of StaffRahm Emanuel signed a similar memorandum when he took office in 2009, but as Bloomberg notes, Priebus changed the language from a suggestion to a directive.
The action is partly carried out to make sure the new administration wants to implement any pending regulations the old one was considering.Environmentalists worried if this could mean Trump is about to undo many of Obama’s energy regulations.
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