Home > Legal > Obama’s 23 Executive Orders were actually “Executive Actions”

Obama’s 23 Executive Orders were actually “Executive Actions”

January 16, 2013

ryanlerch_thinkingboy_outlineDuring his gun control press conference this morning Obama signed a ‘document’. Like most people who watched I believed this was 23 Executive Orders. It’s easy to understand why we thought that. Throughout the week there have been rumors that he would issue  Executive Orders and he used the word ‘order’ at the end of his speech this morning. Here is an excerpt from the very end of the transcript located on the White House website:

Thank you. Let’s sign these orders. (Applause.)

(The executive orders are signed.) (Applause.)

All right, there we go. (Applause.)

I didn’t catch earlier in the speech when he said the following:

These are a few of the 23 executive actions that I’m announcing today.

What does that mean? Since there were rumors of the President going to use Executive Orders to move forward on gun control I had researched them. It never occurred to me that I needed to research what an Executive Action is. The best definition of ‘executive action’ I found comes from NBC news back in 2011:

“It just means something the executive branch does. The use of any of a number of tools in the executive branch’s toolbox,” said one administration official.

Executive actions can include “regulation, enforcement, statements of policy…and numerous other things,” the official continued.

So, basically, it’s anything the President does that doesn’t modify a law.

Does that mean Executive Actions are any less powerful than Executive Orders?

So far three of the Executive Actions have been carried out as Presidential Memorandums. NY Mag has a good story about the 23 executive actions. They have summed up Presidential Memorandums the best:

Basically, for all intents and purposes, a memorandum is an executive order. However, since executive orders are a particularly controversial and politically charged lever of presidential power (the mere mention of them has inspired talk of impeachment among some of Congress’s more firebrand Republicans), it’s important to note that they (or something exactly like them) comprised only three of the items on Obama’s list of 23 “executive actions.”

I think this leads me to the end of this post. It has come full circle back to the President issuing Executive Orders (under a different name).

In summary:

  • President Obama did not actually sign 23 Executive Orders, they were Executive Actions
  • And Executive Action is basically anything the President wants to do
  • At least three of the Executive Actions have been carried out as Presidential Memorandums
  • A Presidential Memorandum is the same thing as an Executive Order by a different name

If you want to see the 23 Executive Orders Actions, the Wall Street Journal has posted the list on their website.

Categories: Legal Tags: ,
  1. Robert
    January 19, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    Thanks for the succinct summary and legwork. I’m not a libertarian but I appreciate a calm mind. R.

  2. January 21, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Executive Action is a term used by the Central Intelligence Agency starting in the early 1950s to refer to assassination operations. This is the definention I found

    • Ken Santema
      January 21, 2013 at 2:10 pm

      Yeah, I had seen that definition. I was close to including it in this post. Especially with the whole “disposition matrix” that was created by the Obama administration.

  3. CMA
    May 30, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    Can you tell me in date order the Presidential Executives Obama has used and signed.
    Actions, Orders, Memorandums, Decisions, Directives. There are many more than 23. Looking for a time line.

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  1. January 16, 2013 at 8:08 pm
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