Stand up for the facts!
Misinformation isn't going away just because it's a new year. Support trusted, factual information with a tax deductible contribution to PolitiFact.
I would like to contribute
The View co-host Whoopi Goldberg claimed recently that unlike President Donald Trump, former President Barack Obama waited before issuing executive actions.
After a striking comment from co-host Joy Behar, who hypothesized Trump was passing executive actions quickly because he was afraid he’d be impeached, another co-host, Jedediah Bila, countered Behar’s point saying "all presidents do this." Goldberg offered an instant fact-check.
"I think the difference in what you're saying in terms of executive action is at least it took President Obama, at least a couple of months in, and this one (Trump) has came in and he said, ‘We're doing this and this, and this.’ And I understand that," Goldberg said in a Jan. 25 segment of the View.
Goldberg repeated this idea again in response to Bila, who criticized Obama for taking executive actions at the start of his presidency when he could have passed laws through a Democratic Congress.
"But (Obama) didn’t do executive orders in the beginning," Goldberg said.
Executive orders are the most well-known kind of presidential action, and have a long tradition in presidential history back to the days of George Washington. In fact, every president except for William Harrison (who died a month into office) has issued at least one executive order.
This specific presidential action directs the federal government and bureaucracies and carries the power of the law. However, executive orders can be revoked or amended by future presidents.
We wanted to settle the matter: Did Obama, unlike Trump, wait to take executive action? Long story short is that he didn’t, and experts said executive actions are common among new presidents.
Obama didn’t waste much time before issuing executive orders after his inauguration.
Obama signed his first executive order (13489) about presidential records on Jan. 21, 2009, a day after the inauguration. This executive order required the Archivist of the United States notify both the incumbent president and the former president of any records the archivist feels may trigger executive privilege. (Executive privilege refers to the president’s power to withhold information from the public.)
Over the next 10 days, Obama had signed nine executive orders. By the end of his first month, the number was 16.
Executive orders signed by Obama
January 2009 (starting on Jan. 21)
Executive action has a broad definition, but just in terms of one type of executive orders, Goldberg’s claim is incorrect.
That said, it’s hard to say whether Trump’s first actions as president are more significant for policy than Obama’s.
Executive orders aren’t the only action president’s can take, making it difficult to compare Obama’s use of unilateral actions to Trump’s so far.
Through "executive actions," presidents can also pardon criminals, amend the internal structure of the executive branch, issue signing statements, write letters and memoranda, and more.
"The number of orders is often misleading, and the terminology can be confusing — both presidents issued important orders that were not ‘Executive Orders’ with numbers attached," said John T. Woolley, an American politics professor at University of California, Santa Barbara.
William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that both Trump and Obama took controversial actions at the start.
"The early Trump executive actions have been on hot button issues, so they aroused a lot of early controversy, but we can’t forget how controversial presidential actions of the past have been," he said.
Galston was specifically referring to the U.S. Treasury’s decision to bail out the auto industry during Obama’s first year. When Obama took office, he created a task force with a mandate to determine the fate of GM and Chrysler.
He added that is not unlikely for presidents to take executive actions at first, especially when there’s a change in party, adding that presidents want to reverse actions of the previous administration.
For example, Trump issued a presidential memorandum on Jan. 23 that banned all foreign nongovernmental organizations from receiving U.S. funds from performing or promoting abortion, reversing an Obama action.
The recession gripping the country when Obama took office also spurred the former president to move with more urgent executive action, Galston said.
Goldberg said Obama waited "at least a couple of months" to issue executive actions. That’s not correct; Obama issued an executive order on his first day in office, and 16 with in his first month.
Although it’s hard to compare one president’s actions to the other, experts said Trump and Obama both issued important orders in the beginning of their presidency, which is common practice.
We rate this statement Pants on Fire.
Phone interview, William Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Jan. 26, 2017
Email interview, John Woolley, political science professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, Jan. 26, 2017
PolitiFact, "Texas Democrat: Obama 'offered fewer executive actions than almost any other president’," July 13, 2104
WhiteHouse.gov, "Presidential Memorandum Regarding the Mexico City Policy," Jan. 23, 2017.
National archives, "2009 Executive Orders Signed by Barack Obama."
PolitiFact, "Did President Obama save the auto industry?" Sept. 6, 2012
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.