The alluring fantasy of Biden ending the imperial presidency

Our other key source of information is Biden’s own account of his plans for governance. The president-elect will issue a spate of executive orders as soon as he takes office and reportedly intends to “lean more on executive actions than he had once hoped.”

By early this year, before the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing here in the States, Biden had already developed a long list of “bold action” he would take on “day one” of his administration, which functionally means a list of policies he’d implement without Congress. Some of it will simply be undoing changes his predecessor ordered. Other parts are far more ambitious. An “unprecedented” move to “rally the world” to fix climate change sounds big. So does rewriting the tax code or taking “bold action to … put us on course to become a 100 percent clean energy economy with net-zero emissions by 2050.”

Add to that all the pandemic response and economic recovery stuff and we can probably expect a lot of governance by “pen and phone,” to borrow an Obama-era line. Biden’s brief dalliance with a national mask mandate — which, however desirable from a public health perspective, simply won’t pass constitutional muster — shows the direction he’s headed.

Despite all that, I do not put the chance at executive reform under Biden at absolute zero.