President Biden has signed more than two dozen executive orders over his first few weeks in office. Many have simply been the reversal of executive orders from the former administration, such as ending the travel ban from Muslim majority countries. Others, such as the reaffirmation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, have reinstated executive orders that were signed by Barack Obama then rescinded by Donald Trump.
Republicans have criticized Biden for breaking his promise of unity, while Democrats have lauded the recent actions. But not long ago Democrats called out Trump and Republicans praised him for the reversal of several executive orders from Obama. Gridlock in the legislature fuels this cycle where each president, in the face of a divided Congress, uses executive orders as a means of governing. With Democrats in narrow control of the Senate, the party has a responsibility to break such a cycle by governing with fewer executive orders and more bipartisan legislation.
Executive orders and actions cause headaches. They are not the law and can be easily undone by a future administration. This can lead to harmful effects. Look no further than Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that was established by Obama in 2012 in lieu of legislation to provide a path to citizenship for certain immigrants who came here illegally as children. Trump rescinded it with an executive order in 2017. For the next few years, the program was challenged in federal court, then making its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2020 that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals can continue. It has now been reaffirmed by Biden.
This series of events leaves over 640,000 dreamers in a constant state of uncertainty. The best way to resolve this is with a legislative compromise with immigration to enable dreamers to remain, secures the border, and creates a pathway to citizenship for around 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally. Biden has an immigration plan that he must reconcile with Republicans to achieve true reform. A reasonable compromise could entail a pathway to citizenship in exchange for a mandate that employers use a database to certify that new hires have a right to work in the United States as well as increased funding toward border security.
Another important area where bipartisan action is essential is coronavirus relief, as executive orders are not a substitute for actual legislation. As the country continues to face this dire economic and health crisis, time is of the essence. Biden has proposed a nearly $2 trillion plan, which those on the right have unsurprisingly balked at, with some Republicans indicating that they would not support any additional aid at all. The key is to direct the additional aid where it is needed most. Steven Rattner, who oversaw the bailouts of the automotive industry, said the proposal is a “legislative trojan horse” that can be refined to help Americans “far more surgically and with a nod toward our own long term fiscal challenges.”
Leaders in Congress need to work with the administration to reduce the nearly $2 trillion amount so the aid is targeted and assistance is provided as needed then phased out. Even if negotiations force Democrats to give ground on the initial proposal from Biden, as long as the bill provides aid where it is needed most, it will be a victory for Democrats. So beyond the substantive benefits of working with Republicans on legislative solutions, this can also benefit Democrats from a political perspective.
Biden was elected on a promise to make government work, which means reconciling with Republicans to solve such problems. If he does work in a bipartisan fashion, he could bolster Democrats in 2022, and even maintain control of the House and Senate. Yet his slew of unilateral actions sends a signal that he is caving to the division instead of trying to solve it. For the success of the country and his administration, Biden has a duty to govern through compromise, not by executive orders or political maneuvers. Both the Democrats and the country will be better off as a result.
Douglas Schoen is a political consultant who has served as adviser to Bill Clinton and to the campaign of Michael Bloomberg. His new book is “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”
— to thehill.com