1. ITV Report

What is an executive order?

Donald Trump with his executive order withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Credit: AP

Less than a week into his presidency, Donald Trump has made judicious use of executive orders.

Here, ITV News looks at what they are, what their limitations are, and how previous presidents have used them.

  • What is an executive order?

An executive order is a document signed by the president that directs government agencies and departments to do certain things.

It is legally binding, and written into the Federal Register which is a daily record of all federal regulations, proposals, and public notices.

Generally, executive orders are used to avoid having to go through Congress and risk the policy being struck down.

  • What are the checks and balances on executive orders?

While there is no real check or balance on executive orders before they are enacted, Congress can decide to restrict funding for specific policies if it sees fit to.

Congress can also write and enact laws that explicitly prevent executive orders from being effective.

Congress can indirectly prevent executive orders from being effective. Credit: AP
  • What are the limits to executive orders?

Executive orders can be instated or reversed by any president, which means some orders tend to be political footballs that get enacted and then rolled back.

Trump has already reinstated the so-called "Global gag rule" which prevents US-funded organisations overseas from having anything to do with abortion.

The rule, also known as the "Mexico City rule", was established by Ronald Reagan in 1984. It was later rescinded by Bill Clinton, then reinstated by George Bush, and then rescinded again by Barack Obama.

While an executive order is legally binding, they are limited and not as broad as a piece of legislation that has been passed by Congress.

Orders cannot reverse a law passed by Congress either.

  • What executive orders has Trump already signed?

In his few days in office, President Trump has already signed several executive orders:

  • An order imposing a hiring freeze across federal government, excluding the military
  • An order to begin withdrawing the US from the TPP trade deal
  • Two orders reviving two pipelines, Keystone XL and Dakota Access
  • An order directing agencies to ease "regulatory burdens" of the Affordable Care Act
  • How many executive orders did previous presidents issue?

Former president Barack Obama was criticised for his use of executive orders, which he used when he did not want to have to go through a Republican-controlled Congress.

Obama signed 276 executive orders during his eight years in office.

George Bush signed 291, and Bill Clinton signed 364. By far the heaviest user of executive orders was President Franklin Roosevelt, who signed 3,721 during his presidency.