The Environment, Guns, And Healthcare: How Trump Will Use Executive Power To Undo Obama’s Legacy


The terms “Executive orders” and “Executive actions” got tossed around a lot during the campaign with eventual winner Donald Trump going after President Obama’s penchant for occasionally using them as opposed to seeking a legislative remedy. But while Trump said that Obama “led the way” on these actions, his 266 executive orders actually pale in comparison to the counts of Bill Clinton (364) and Ronald Reagan (381). And besides that fact, it’s not like the use of executive orders and actions are somehow untoward or without constitutional backing.

Executive orders originate from an interpretation of the U.S. Constitution’s Article II, which outlines the executive branch’s duties and powers and notes that the officeholder “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Executive actions (which aren’t necessarily orders written up and signed by the president) are a term that is used to describe any action taken by the president and his or her administration.

With that interpretation in mind, Trump will surely lean on executive orders and actions to aid his agenda for the country. But he’s also likely to use these presidential powers to live up to his campaign promises about dismantling Obama’s legacy. With that in mind, here are the two Obama-era executive orders (and two executive actions) that are most likely to encounter President Trump’s ire during his first 100 days in office.

Gun Control

Trump’s pledge do away with Obama’s executive orders runs the gamut of topics, but those actions pertaining to gun control featured prominently among his talking points throughout the campaign. When he promised to “unsign” certain orders “so fast” back in March, Trump was specifically talking about actions proposed by the White House following the terrorist shooting in San Bernardino, California when the White House issued a series of suggestions for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives about background checks. Additionally, there were proposals for community safety, better mental health accommodations, and other related issues. Interestingly, many of these proposals mirror the language employed by the Trump campaign, though the president-elect may adopt a more rigorous approach with his own set of suggestions.

As an example, Trump has voiced an interest in rebooting Project Exile, which proposed shifting the prosecution of gun possession offenses out of state courts and into federal ones, where the punishments are more severe. Started in Richmond, Virginia in 1997, the program gained support from conservatives and the National Rifle Association, though members of the Conservative Black Caucus shot it down since “minorities were substantially more likely than whites under comparable circumstances to receive mandatory minimum sentences.” Should Trump move ahead with his own executive orders to deface and replace Obama’s, his office could lay the groundwork for the program’s return.


As with gun control, the more controversial aspects of Obama’s immigration policies weren’t determined by an executive order per se — but rather by executive action. That, and the involvement of then-Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, with whose cooperation Obama promised to “mend our nation’s immigration policy, to make it more fair, more efficient, and more just — specifically for certain young people sometimes called ‘Dreamers.'” The result of this 2012 announcement was the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals plan, with which the administration hoped to help those dependent on the maligned DREAM Act.

A Supreme Court tie over a 2016 case considering whether or not Obama had effectively overstepped the constitutional bounds of the presidency with DACA’s establishment blocked its efforts, thereby rendering the administration’s latest attempts to reform U.S. immigration policy void. This never stopped Trump from lambasting the “executive order” during the campaign, though.

In an early 2015 interview with Meet the Press‘ Chuck Todd, the Republican hopeful exclaimed “we’re going to keep the families together, but they have to go … we either have a country, or we don’t have a country.”

Following the SCOTUS decision, Trump praised the court for keeping the country “safe” from the implied perils of Obama’s “amnesty.” Yet despite the judicial branch’s checks against the apparent executive aggression, the Trump team promised to “immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties” in mid-January. This would require executive actions (or orders) by Trump, but what that (or these) will look like remains to be seen.

Climate Change

Per remarks made during the campaign, it’s not hard to see that Trump is not a fan of scientific theories postulating man-made climate change. That means existing federal policies and regulations may have a target on their back over the next four years.

The Obama administration issued several executive orders pertaining to climate change during the past eight years. From investing in industrial energy efficiency to laying out plans for “federal sustainability” over the next decade, Obama has populated his climate change policies with several orders intended to bypass assured or potential congressional blockages. Some of these, like the White House’s attempts to set and implement new limits for greenhouse gas emissions at U.S. power plants, have been blocked by the Supreme Court.

Perhaps buoyed by that victory, Trump has promised repeals and the incoming president has also vowed to “cancel” America’s involvement in the Paris climate agreement that was negotiated by some 200 countries in 2015. But seeing as how this is an international agreement, Trump’s administration would have to do more than simply issue an executive order declaring the country’s withdrawal. Though a similar order may expedite the process — not to mention the confirmation of his Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency head appointments.


Perhaps the swiftest use of a Trump executive order, however, will come in the form of whatever maneuvers his administration finds necessary to help repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act. Popularly known as “Obamacare,” the controversial policy — which has been strengthened by several Obama executive orders that were issued to circumnavigate the brewing legislative storm — has long been a target for the president-elect and his allies. But while no one is sure what concrete steps will be taken in this effort, Trump’s VP pick, Mike Pence, has claimed that Trump will specifically “sign executive orders related to repealing Obamacare” on his first day.

Will Trump move to expedite the 115th Congress’ general desire to decimate prior legislation, especially as it pertains to abortion? Trump’s opinion about this particular issue has morphed greatly over time. Though considering executive orders like #13535, which bolsters the allowance for and enforcement of Obamacare’s abortion-related policies, it and other orders like it could be the first to go.

Trump And Executive Powers

The Trump campaign made cancelling “all illegal and overreaching executive orders” a priority and the tune hasn’t changed much during the transition, with Sean Spicer telling ABC’s This Week that Trump will “repeal a lot of the regulations and actions that have been taken by this administration over the last eight years” as soon as he takes office.

This barrage against Obama’s fondness for administering executive orders has given constitutional conservatives hope that Trump will both repeal his predecessor’s measures and delegitimize the practice altogether. However, his promise to ensure a “smooth transition” for Congress’ gutting of the Affordable Healthcare Act via executive order seems to strike against that notion.

Additionally, some of Trump’s announced policy changes could necessitate more executive orders — even in the case of trimming Obama’s. Which suggests that his presidency may actually maintain, if not bolster, their frequency.