Biden in Action: the First 100 Days

Biden compared to prior presidents.

By
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters

We continue showing graphs (below) reflecting the total number of presidential orders with and without symbolic proclamations. In symbolic proclamations, presidents designate days, weeks, months, and other occasions. In the week ending April 16, Biden made seven symbolic proclamations including Black Maternal Health Week, National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and National Volunteer Week. 

Both graphs track the total number of Presidential Executive Orders, Memoranda, and Proclamations. Both graphs show President Biden continues to be far more active than other post-FDR presidents. However, the contrast between the two graphs reveals that recent presidents have issued many more symbolic proclamations.

In the past week, Biden had to deal with several issues that distracted from promoting the “American Jobs Plan.” These included the announcement of a date for US troops to leave Afghanistan and controversy about his targets for refugee admissions to the United States. Related to this he identified a number of budgetary priorities for Congress (“Discretionary Funding Request”). The plan remains to be introduced formally as bills for Congressional consideration. 

Documents vs. Orders. We are counting “ordering documents.” A single document may contain multiple orders. For example, Executive Order 13990 includes at least 18 kinds of statements directing a particular kind of administrative action (e.g..., “immediately review,” “seek input,” “place a temporary moratorium,” “provide recommendations,” “shall rescind,” etc.).
There can be multiple instances of specific ordering language in a given order. Included among the directives in EO 13990 is the immediate revocation of: 9 prior executive orders, 3 memoranda, one pipeline permit, and the 90-day suspension of another executive order. The order specifies 13 regulations for review and revision as appropriate. So a single executive order includes language directing around 40 distinct actions. EO 13990 is just one count on the graphs below.

Orders in other document categories. Presidential orders frequently appear in documents with other kinds of category titles. An important example is President Biden’s 1/20/21 “Statement” in which he “hereby accept[s]. . . every article and clause” of the Paris Agreement of December 12, 2015. In a Letter on 1/20/21, Biden rejoined the World Health Organization. In Remarks on 2/10/21, he announced that the US was again participating with the UN Human Rights Council.
Like his predecessors, Biden issues orders continuing National Emergencies in documents called Notices. He also declares domestic Disasters and Emergencies.

Theme clusters. As of 4/16/21, Biden had issued 16 documents (in the three categories we monitor) that included references to "climate change" or a "climate crisis" or the President's "Special Envoy for Climate." He had referred to COVID-19 in 50 of 100 documents. (As a reference point, starting in March 2020, President Trump issued 80 ordering documents mentioning COVID-19.)

Reversals. Typically, we expect incoming presidents, especially after a change in party, to explicitly reject some policies of their predecessor. However, no recent president has reversed a predecessor as often as Biden has reversed Trump. Among the Biden documents, he explicitly rejects prior orders (revoking, amending, suspending, reinstating, etc.) in 37 out of 100 documents. Executive Order 1401 was exclusively dedicated to revoking seven actions of President Trump. 

Biden Reversals Compared. To further show Biden’s contrast with his predecessors, we compared four president in their rates of reversing orders. Our findings are in the table below and also described here. We compare Biden, Trump, Obama, and Bush-43 for the period from January 20 through April 16 of their first term.
Column 1 is simply the total number of Executive Orders for each president during the period from 1/20-4/16. So, Biden published 40 Executive Orders and Trump only 23.
Column 2 is the number of those Executive Orders that include revocations of prior orders. Nineteen of Biden's 40 orders included revocations.  Trump had 7 orders with revocations out of his 23 total.  In an irony, Trump's EO 13780 revoked his own earlier travel ban order, EO 13769Column 3 is the ratio of these two numbers--0.48 for Biden, 0.30 for Trump--the proportion of all Executive Orders with revocations.
Column 4 is the number of prior orders revoked. Biden revoked 62 prior orders with 19 orders. Trump revoked 12 with 7.  Column 5 is the ratio of those two number--3.3 orders revoked per "revoking order" for Biden; 1.7 for Trump.
Biden has been far more active than his immediate predecessors at undoing past action.

 

 

 

(1)

(2)

(3)

(4)

(5)

President

Start
date

End
date

Count of Executive
Orders

Count of Executive Orders that Revoke Prior Orders

Ratio of (2)/(1) [(Orders Revoking)  /
(EO Count)]

Number of Prior Orders Revoked

Ratio of (4)/(2)
[orders revoked/orders revoking]

Biden

1/20/2021

4/16/2021

40

19

0.48

62

3.3

Trump

1/20/2017

4/16/2017

23

7

0.30

12

1.7

Obama

1/20/2009

4/16/2009

19

7

0.37

9

1.3

Bush

1/20/2001

4/16/2001

11

5

0.45

5

1.0

 

Court Challenges. A report in the Wall Street Journal warns that Biden's executive actions may be met with increasing pushback in the courts. Has this already started? We did a search of the Lexis/Nexis archive of legal cases. We asked how many Federal cases reported within the first 86 days of an administration (i.e.., 1/20 - 4/16) refer to "Executive Order" and the administration. We searched for Biden, Trump, Obama, Bush. There were 20 cases for Biden, 48 for Trump, 10 for Obama, and none for Bush-43. (We are not counting a lawsuit that involved Bush actions as Texas Governor.) As a ratio to orders issued (2.0), Trump had far more court challenges in the same time period. The rates for Biden and Obama are nearly equal (0.5). Of course, eventually, the court decision is what matters.

Nominations and Confirmations. The Washington Post in collaboration with the Partnership for Public Service, have produced illuminating analyses of rates of Congressional confirmation of nominees.  In this measure Biden, as of 4/16/21, still lags Obama and Clinton.  But his confirmed appointees at the same point is greater than Trump and Bush.  Biden has had most of his top leadership nominations confirmed.

DAY ONE priorities. The Biden campaign identified a set of “Day One” priorities.  These especially featured: Climate change (including reentering the Paris Agreement); diversity of political appointees; immigration and asylum; COVID-19 (and the related economic crisis); racial injustice; creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. By February 4, each of these has been addressed in at least one ordering document, and we have concluded that all of them were addressed in orders on “day one.” Among those actions, Biden had promised to submit legislation for Immigration Reform--which the White House announced on 1/20.  The bill was introduced in the House on 2/18/21Senate introduction was in the week of 2/22/21.  However, in this last week, controversy arose about whether Biden was reneging on his promise to restore refugee admissions in line with historic practices.

The number of non-symbolic Biden actions early in his term has exceeded the 100 day total for all predecessors except FDR.

The graphs below compares presidents who took office following a partisan change in the Presidency, starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt. So, we excluded from the analysis Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, and George Bush. In the graph, Republicans are represented in red and Democrats in blue.

Through 4/16/21, Biden had issued 45 proclamations of which only five are substantive. The balance are traditional symbolic calls for recognition of groups or causes (Unity, Heart Month, Black History Month, Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month).

[Dates of important revisions:  1/29/21; 1/30/21; 2/5/21; 2/12/21; 2/19/21 2/16/21; 3/5/21; 3/13/21; 3/21/21; 3/28/21; 4/4/21; 4/10/21; 4/18/21]

Biden contrasted with predecessors substantive proclamations only

Biden compared with predecessors all orders