Executive overreach: Obama’s ‘pen and phone’ has nothing on Trump’s

executive overreach pen and phone

Do you remember when Barack Obama announced in early 2014 that he wouldn’t wait for Congress to create the legislation he wanted but would instead usurp the House and the Senate by issuing decrees via his “pen and phone” despite his commitment as a candidate in 2007 to roll back executive overreach?

“We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone.

”And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward in helping to make sure our kids are getting the best education possible, making sure that our businesses are getting the kind of support and help they need to grow and advance, to make sure that people are getting the skills that they need to get those jobs that our businesses are creating.”

Conservatives and Republicans — they’re not the same thing — were rightly outraged by Obama’s clear abuse of power and executive overreach. For example, calling Obama’s pen and phone threat “executive order tyranny,” Judge Andrew Napolitano explained the president’s motivation:

“In a menacing statement at a cabinet meeting last month . . . the president has referred to his pen and his phone as a way of suggesting that he will use his power to issue executive orders, promulgate regulations and use his influence with his appointees in the government’s administrative agencies to continue the march to transform fundamentally the relationship of the federal government and individuals to his egalitarian vision when he is unable to accomplish that with legislation from Congress.”

Also chiming in on the subject of Obama’s executive overreach was non other than the current occupant of the White House, Donald Trump, and Vice President Mike Pence who was governor of Indiana at the time.

“I think it would be a profound mistake for the President of the United States to overturn immigration law with the stroke of a pen. Issues of this magnitude should always be resolved with the consent of the governed. Signing an executive order, giving a speech, barnstorming around the country defending that executive order is not leadership.”

But as the Monkees once sang, that was then and this is now. In 2020, Trump’s 2014 comments criticizing Obama for taking executive action ‘because he is unable to negotiate w/ Congress’ are coming back to haunt him

In his first three years in office, Trump’s inability to negotiate with Congress and his “only I can do it” narcissism has led to more executive orders being issued than we witnessed under Obama — a trend that continues as we enter the home stretch of his increasingly unlikely re-election in November.

With Congress’ inability to agree on yet another coronavirus stimulus along with Trump’s feckless leadership throughout the so-called pandemic, the New York liberal with an “R” after his name is ready to pull out his pen and phone once again.

In his latest example of executive overreach, Trump is “considering” taking unilateral action if an agreement can’t be made on the coronavirus stimulus. He said last week that his biggest priorities in the negotiations were an extension of enhanced unemployment insurance and another moratorium on evictions.

“A lot of people are going to be evicted but I’m going to stop it because I’ll do it myself if I have to,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

As usual, Trump provided no details on how he would go about circumventing Congress on the matter, nor did he provide a constitutional rationale for doing so, except to say, “I have a lot of powers with respect to executive orders and we’re looking at that very seriously right now.”

Since becoming president, Trump has used his pen and phone to latch on to executive power as a means to advance his non-conservative agenda while routinely going where no predecessor had gone before. But in so doing, he’s also built a flimsy foundation that will quickly be unraveled if Biden wins. Since executive orders can be undone by executive orders, Trump’s self-declared awesomeness can, and most likely will, be undone in short order.

Trump once accused Obama of executive overreach, but he should be looking at the man in the mirror. To paraphrase his own words in the tweet above, Trump has used his pen and phone “to subvert the Constitution of the US for his own benefit & because he is unable to negotiate w/Congress” much more than Obama ever dreamed.

And like Obama, Trump has done so as a substitute for leadership, and to cover his failures as president.


David Leach is the owner of the Strident Conservative. He holds people of every political stripe accountable for their failure to uphold conservative values, and he promotes those values instead of political parties.

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