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How Joe Biden’s executive orders compare with those of other presidents

Joe Biden signs executive orders for his racial equity agenda on January 26.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
Joe Biden signs executive orders for his racial equity agenda on January 26.
  • Amanda Shendruk
By Amanda Shendruk

Visual journalist

Published

Joe Biden has been US president for less than two weeks and has already issued nearly as many executive action as Trump and Obama did in the same period, combined. Biden hit the ground running, enacting 25 executive orders, 10 presidential memos, and four proclamations within his first 12 days in office.

Executive orders, presidential memos, and proclamations are all directives that come straight from the desk of the president, in contrast to laws passed by Congress. However, the authority to issue these executive actions isn’t outlined in the Constitution, meaning they can be tough to define. Executive orders are legally binding, and in practice, memoranda are treated very similarly. Proclamations tend to be ceremonial.

Nearly every way you slice it, Biden has out-actioned his recent predecessors. His four proclamations are twice as many as Trump and Clinton issued, and three more than Obama and Bush, who each enacted only one. The number of executive orders he has signed are an order of magnitude greater than those before him—Obama is runner up, with nine. It is only with presidential memoranda that anyone can compete. Trump issued 11, compared to Biden and Obama’s 10.

Biden’s early executive actions range in their focus, touching on immigration, racial justice, transgender rights, coronavirus, climate change, and health. There’s the reversal of Trump’s decision to remove the US from the World Health Organization, a directive to preserve the DACA program, a repeal of the so-called Muslim ban, and a slew of orders aimed at tackling the climate crisis. At least 13 executive orders and memos directly undo work from the previous administration.

One action in particular continues a game of policy ping-pong established by his predecessors—the Memorandum on Protecting Women’s Health at Home and Abroad. This memo repeals the “Mexico City Policy,” a Reagan-era rule banning US funding for global organizations that provide abortion services. The last five presidents have either reinstated (Bush, Trump) or repealed (Clinton, Obama, Biden) this directive.

To see what else America’s recent presidents have accomplished in their first days, here are the first memos, proclamations, and executive orders of the past five US leaders.

Biden’s early executive actions

As of today (Jan. 31), Biden has ordered 39 presidential actions, far more than his recent predecessors. In fact, the American Presidency Project points out the number is greater than any US president taking office following a change in party, starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt. It has taken others leaders seven or eight weeks to reach the same number of actions.

Trump’s early executive actions

By the end of January 2017, Trump had signed 18 presidential memos or executive orders, and issued two proclamations.

Obama’s early executive actions

Barack Obama tied with Donald Trump in their total number of presidential memos, executive orders, or proclamations. Both signed 20 actions; Trump had more presidential memos, Obama had more executive orders.

Bush’s early executive actions

Compared with his successors, George W. Bush ordered very few early executive actions before the end of January 2001—only four, and a single proclamation.

Clinton’s early executive actions

By the end of January 1993, Bill Clinton had enacted seven presidential memos and signed a mere two executive orders. He also made two proclamations.

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