Tuesday night’s State of the Union will be marked by executive orders. Which makes sense: President Obama can’t get most of his agenda through Congress, so he will do what he can to pass small parts of it — like a minimum-wage increase for federal contractors — unilaterally.
Predictably, Republicans aren’t thrilled by the work-arounds. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, called the minimum-wage order a “constitutional violation” Tuesday and said “we’ve never had a president with that level of audacity and that level of contempt for his own oath of office.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Sunday that Obama is wrong to think he can just pass his agenda without going through Congress. “Ronald Reagan didn’t think that and Bill Clinton didn’t think that,” McConnell said.
Mitch McConnell is mistaken. No president since JFK has issued more executive orders than Ronald Reagan. And Barack Obama isn’t on track to top him.
Here are the basic numbers: Up to Jan. 20, 2014, Barack Obama issued a total of 168 executive orders, including 147 in his first term. George W. Bush issued a total of 291 executive orders, including 173 in his first term. Clinton issued more than Bush, with 200 in his first term and 364 overall.
But Ronald Reagan is the champion here. Reagan issued 213 executive orders in his first term and 168 in his second, for a total of 381. And while not all executive orders are made equally, Reagan’s orders weren’t all fluff. One of them — EO 12333, issued in 1981 — governs most of the National Security Agency. “It is a sweeping mandate that outlines the duties and foreign-intelligence collection for the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies,” per McClatchy. That order still serves as the primary authority for most of America’s intelligence operations.
Republicans are likely to spend a whole lot of the next 48 hours decrying Obama’s “pen and phone” governance. But just remember: No one did it better than Reagan.