President Biden is right to not let his agenda be held hostage, but legislating through Congress is a better path.
By The Editorial Board – Jan. 27, 2021
The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.
President Biden is moving aggressively to turn the page on the Trump era.
A week into his presidency, Mr. Biden has issued a raft of executive orders and other actions. Already, he has committed to rejoining the Paris climate change agreement, ended the Muslim travel ban, canceled the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, rescinded funding for and halted construction on the wall at the southern border, reaffirmed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, mandated mask-wearing on federal grounds, moved to end the federal government’s reliance on private prisons, reversed the ban on transgender military service and called for agency assessments aimed at advancing racial equity — just to name a few. The coming days will bring more such action.
These moves are being met with cheers by Democrats and others eager to see the legacy of Donald Trump’s presidency dismantled posthaste. Republicans, meanwhile, are grumbling about presidential overreach and accusing Mr. Biden of betraying his pledge to seek unity.
But this is no way to make law. A polarized, narrowly divided Congress may offer Mr. Biden little choice but to employ executive actions or see his entire agenda held hostage. These directives, however, are a flawed substitute for legislation. They are intended to provide guidance to the government and need to work within the discretion granted the executive by existing law or the Constitution. They do not create new law — though executive orders carry the force of law — and they are not meant to serve as an end run around the will of Congress. By design, such actions are more limited in what they can achieve than legislation, and presidents who overreach invite intervention by the courts.