President Obama warned President-Elect Trump about overusing executive orders to get his domestic agenda through. In an interview with NPR that aired today, Obama explained that “the legislative process is always better” than an executive order, “in part because it’s harder to undo.” He also expressed concern about the concentration of power in the presidency when it comes to the war on terror, insisting his administration has imposed “guard rails internally” where the Congress has failed to do so, but dismissed concerns about domestic power as the fault of Congress and the product of a necessary bureuacracy.
Obama admitted Trump was “entirely within his lawful power” to use executive orders in the same manner he has, but insisted that his “strong preference” was always to legislate where legislation is possible. “In my first two years, I wasn’t relying on executive powers, because I had big majorities in the Congress and we were able to get bills done, get bills passed,” Obama noted. “And even after we lost the majorities in Congress, I bent over backwards consistently to try to find compromise and a legislative solution to some of the big problems that we’ve got.”
Obama brought up his immigration executive order, insisting he had only resorted to it after failing to get Congress to pass a bill, and pointed to the Senate passing a version of the bill as support for his executive order, which deprioritized deportations for illegal immigrants identified by the administration as low risk.
“So my suggestion to the president-elect is, you know, going through the legislative process is always better, in part because it’s harder to undo,” Obama said. Executive orders, as well as executive agreements like the Paris climate accord or the Iran nuclear deal, can be unilaterally dismantled just like they are unilaterally imposed. Obama called that “part of the democratic process,” but the expansion of presidential powers through methods like the executive order is actually a subversion of the democratic process. While President Obama framed the legislative process as something he personally preferred to the executive order, the legislative process is not something that ought to be bypassed by executive action. That the last century has seen the legislative process increasingly ignored in favor of executive action and bureaucratic feat is a bug in the republican system, not a feature.