CNN’s False Equivalency on Executive Action

Network anchor tries to conflate Trump's promises to examples of obvious overreach from Obama

CNN anchor Carol Costello on Wednesday made a false equivalence between President Obama’s profligate use of executive action and executive orders that President-Elect Donald Trump may conceivably issue in pursuit of key campaign pledges.

Costello, on “CNN Newsroom,” noted that Obama has used his “phone and pen” to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation and issue work papers to them, and to impose restrictions on power plants that use fossil fuels. She then compared that to orders Trump has promised, such as renegotiating unfavorable trade deals, ending job-killing regulations, and directing federal agencies to crack down on visa abuse.

“The cat’s out of the bag. It’s been happening not just with Obama but presidents past, too.”

“The cat’s out of the bag,” Costello said. “It’s been happening not just with Obama but presidents past, too.”

CNN contributor Jason Johnson, a Morgan State University professor and politics editor of the black-oriented website The Root, agreed there is essentially no difference between how Obama and Trump view executive power.

“The Republicans want to be snide because they won the presidency,” he said. “But Donald Trump is going to use executive orders just like Barack Obama did — because when you don’t think Congress is acting fast enough, that’s what you do.”

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Obama, of course, is not the first president to issue executive orders. And it remains to be seen what Trump would do if faced with an intransigent Congress. But the examples Costello cited hardly fall into the category of turning to executive action because Congress is not acting fast enough.

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In the case of visas issued to foreigners to enter the United States, ordering agencies to review policies to make sure that visitors are following visa rules is the type of routine executive action that presidents have taken for two centuries. Such an order would provide direction to federal agencies in carry out laws passed by Congress.

In the case of canceling regulations, executive orders from Trump merely would reverse regulations that Obama imposed — sometimes as an explicit end-run around Congress. The other example, renegotiating trade deals, also is a false comparison. The trade agreements, themselves, specifically grant authority to the president to withdraw from them or initiate negotiations to revise the terms.

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Obama, meanwhile, used executive action to stretch the bounds of the Constitution. His Clean Power Plan would impose costly new requirements on power plants. He imposed the regulations after failing to persuade Congress to pass them. Obama acted unilaterally again in 2014 to create the Deferred Action for the Parents of Americans (DAPA). This would have achieved what Congress rejected when it failed to pass an immigration overhaul favored by the administration, and included papers allowing qualifying illegal immigrants to work in the United States.

That courts blocked both initiatives is an illustration that Obama overstepped his authority.

“In effect, what President Obama had been trying to do is complete changes in policy that should have been done by Congress,” said Jack Martin, a retired diplomat who works for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “Undoing that by simple executive order simply sets the mileage back to where it should have been.”

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