As President Donald J. Trump boarded the plane back to Florida on Wednesday, he called his administration’s political achievements sweeping, ambitious and, most importantly, lasting – but the destruction of his legacy was about to come. to begin.
“We have accomplished so much together,” he told a crowd of his supporters. “We were not a regular administration.”
Many of Mr. Trump’s proudest accomplishments were not enshrined in law, but were instead transcribed by executive order, making them vulnerable to overthrow the moment he left office.
And that’s exactly what happened. In his first 72 hours in office, President Biden issued about two dozen executive orders, using the process not to build a legacy, as Mr. Trump had attempted, but to demolish.
Mr. Trump did not master the levers of power and negotiation in Congress, nor was he much interested in the history of his office, which offered lessons on the pitfalls of relying on autonomous presidential power.
In a remarkable interview 10 days before his death in 1973, former President Lyndon B. Johnson explained why he had resisted the temptation to carry out historic civil rights reforms using executive orders. Instead, he followed the more difficult legislative route, seeking to arm his efforts with the force of the .
Black civil rights leaders “wanted me to issue an executive order and proclaim it by presidential decree,” Mr. Johnson said, of the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
But Mr Johnson, a knowledgeable legislative strategist, said he didn’t think the reform “would be very effective if Congress hadn’t legislated.”
Mr. Trump has not always heeded these guidelines – with the possible exception of his criminal justice reform bill – and is paying the price now.
Biden’s list of recoveries is growing but so far includes: restoring the country’s commitment to the World Health Organization, rallying the Paris climate accords, rescinding the ban by Mr. Trump immigration from some Muslim-majority countries, halting construction of the border wall, reviving protections for LGBTQ workers, killing the Keystone XL pipeline license and banning drilling again in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, imposing new ethical rules and rejecting Mr. Trump’s “1776” commission report.
But not all of Mr. Trump’s actions can be quickly reversed. Repealing his signature tax cuts will be a heavy legislative lift, though Biden and his aides have only pledged a partial rollback.
Packing federal courts with conservative judges – plus a joint venture between former White House attorney Donald F. McGahn II and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader – could be Mr. Trump. And Mr. McConnell’s use of congressional runners to repeal certain regulations has given cancellations some force of law that can make them more difficult to override.
Whether Mr Biden himself will be too dependent on executive action remains an open question. In fact, many of the environmental regulations put in place at the end of President Barack Obama’s term were quickly abandoned by Mr. Trump.
But Mr Biden, a former senator who intends to push through a new massive coronavirus relief bill quickly, appears to know the path to completing his agenda leads to legislation, including a set of infrastructure. bipartisanship that Mr. Trump also wanted but never defended. . (For Mr Biden, there are warning signs of hope: a group of 17 Republicans newly elected to the House have signed a letter signaling their intention to negotiate such a package.)
If Mr. Trump needed a more contemporary lesson in presidential power than that of Mr. Johnson, he was to look no further than his predecessor, Mr. Obama, who endured a long and messy process to get his signature. , the Affordable Care Act. .