Don't worry. It's not an executive action, it's a memorandum

You’ve heard it over and over again from liberal outlets. Barack Obama has issued fewer executive orders than any President in the past century. Well, as it turns out, we’ve all fallen for a bit of linguistic juggling which should have come to light before now. It seems that it may indeed be true that the current Oval Office occupant is behind the curve on “executive orders” but he more than makes up for it when you add in all of the presidential memorandum which have flown off his desk.

President Obama has issued a form of executive action known as the presidential memorandum more often than any other president in history — using it to take unilateral action even as he has signed fewer executive orders.

When these two forms of directives are taken together, Obama is on track to take more high-level executive actions than any president since Harry Truman battled the “Do Nothing Congress” almost seven decades ago, according to a USA TODAY review of presidential documents.

Obama has issued executive orders to give federal employees the day after Christmas off, to impose economic sanctions and to determine how national secrets are classified. He’s used presidential memoranda to make policy on gun control, immigration and labor regulations. Tuesday, he used a memorandum to declare Bristol Bay, Alaska, off-limits to oil and gas exploration.

Yesterday’s order regarding Bristol Bay is a subject for another column, but it has done us the favor of pointing out a tool which Barack Obama has used which puts the “fewest executive orders” story into the dustbin. So what exactly is a presidential memorandum? I had heard the term before, but had always assumed that it was just another term for an executive order. I confess that I had no idea they were being tallied separately.

There’s a good explanation of the three types of presidential memorandum here. A presidential determination (or finding) is essentially a policy definition. The best example given is that the President may have to clarify the status of a nation – such as Iran – before Congress can impose sanctions on them. A memorandum of disapproval appears to be pretty much the same as a signing statement which is issued when some bills are signed into law, except they are released when a bill is vetoed. The third and final type is the hortatory memorandum, and that’s where Obama has really been busy. This is an order which is issued as a broad policy statement, but unlike a Presidential Proclamation is directed to executive agencies.

If you can find any functional or practical difference between that and an executive order, please do let us know.

So when you add up all of of these hortatory memoranda and the actual executive orders, Barack Obama goes from issuing the fewest executive orders in the last century to being the guy who issued the most since Truman. But I think everyone had a pretty good sense of that already, didn’t we?

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