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Fact-check: Has Biden 'issued more executive fiats' in his first days in office than any other president?

Austin American-Statesman logo Austin American-Statesman 1/28/2021 By Miriam Valverde, PolitiFact.com, Austin American-Statesman
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Marco Rubio

Statement: Says Joe Biden “has issued more executive fiats than anyone in such a short period of time, ever, more than Obama, more than Trump, more than anyone.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R. Fla., claimed that President Joe Biden talks like a centrist, but is "governing like someone from the far-left."

"He has issued more executive fiats than anyone in such a short period of time, ever, more than Obama, more than Trump, more than anyone," Rubio said in a video.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., arrives at the chamber to take taking an oath and vote on how to proceed on the impeachment against former President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) © J. Scott Applewhite, AP Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., arrives at the chamber to take taking an oath and vote on how to proceed on the impeachment against former President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Rubio tweeted the video shortly before 8 a.m. Jan. 22, so we evaluated Rubio’s claim based on actions Biden had taken up to that point (Jan. 20-21).

Setting aside the political implications of the word "fiat," we found that available evidence supports Rubio’s assessment: Biden’s use of the executive power in his first two days far outpaced that of his predecessors.

Marco Rubio wearing a suit and tie: Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., walks onto the stage during the Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the University of Houston Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Gary Coronado, Pool) MANDATORY CREDIT © Gary Coronado, AP Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., walks onto the stage during the Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the University of Houston Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Gary Coronado, Pool) MANDATORY CREDIT

Available evidence backs Rubio’s claim

The total number of presidential directives signed by Biden during his first two days in office is greater than the number signed by Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama over the same period.

Biden issued 17 executive orders on his first two days in office, compared with Trump who issued one and Obama who issued two. Biden issued three proclamations, while Trump and Obama each issued one.

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Executive orders state how to manage the operations of the executive branch of the federal government. Proclamations communicate information on holidays, commemorations, special observances, trade, and policy.

We turned instead to the American Presidency Project, a nonpartisan source of presidential documents hosted at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

If Rubio was referring to a president’s first two days in office (instead of any two-day period), the available documents show that he is correct dating back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose first inauguration was in 1933, said Gerhard Peters, a political science professor at Citrus College and co-director of the American Presidency Project.

The available record before FDR isn’t complete enough to say definitively whether Rubio is also right about earlier presidents, but experts said it’s likely that his claim still holds.

"Before FDR, presidents simply did not charge into office as prepared for action," said John Woolley, co-director of American Presidency Project and professor emeritus of political science at UCSB. "Even Lincoln, judging by the record assembled by (his secretaries John G. Nicolay and John Hay), did not fire off as many orders as Biden despite there already being an active revolt in progress."

Many of Biden’s executive orders target the pandemic

Rubio used the word "fiat" — a politicized term that would suggest Biden rushed in sweeping and long-lasting policy changes. However, Biden in his first two days issued 10 executive orders and one memorandum to address a specific issue that’s actively affecting the entire nation: the coronavirus pandemic. Biden was sworn into office around the time the United States recorded about 400,000 deaths from COVID-19.

Here’s a rundown of those specific actions:

  • Executive order mandating use of masks on federal property
  • Executive order creating the position of COVID-19 response coordinator
  • Executive order requiring masks in all forms of public transportation
  • Executive order to develop and expand access to COVID-19 treatments
  • Executive order to improve the collection and sharing of COVID-19 data
  • Executive order to secure supplies necessary for responding to the pandemic
  • Executive order to ensure equitable pandemic response and recovery
  • Executive order to support the reopening and continuing operation of schools
  • Executive order to protect workers from COVID-19 under the Occupational Safety and Health Act
  • Executive order establishing the COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board
  • Memorandum extending federal support to governors’ use of the National Guard in their COVID-19 response

"No one would doubt the need for executive action to deal with an overwhelming health crisis, so this crisis situation makes this a unique point in time," said John Frendreis, a professor emeritus of political science at Loyola University Chicago. "Rubio’s comment is technically correct, although when taken together with the context, it is exaggerated."

Besides those COVID-19 measures, Biden’s actions included an order requiring an ethics pledge from his appointees and directives revoking several of Trump’s policies.

It’s become more common for presidents to issue executive actions and for the other party to dislike it, said Daniel Gitterman, a public policy professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"When it’s the president of the opposite party, they call it executive fiat, and when it’s the president of the same party, they call it bold action," Gitterman said.

According to the Federal Register, Trump signed 220 executive orders during his four years in office. Throughout their eight-year administrations, Obama signed 276 executive orders and George W. Bush signed 291.

Our ruling

Rubio said Biden "has issued more executive fiats than anyone in such a short period of time, ever, more than Obama, more than Trump, more than anyone."

"Fiats" is a politically loaded term and ignores that many of Biden’s directives were specific to the ongoing pandemic.

Still, the available evidence on the number of directives issued supports Rubio’s claim.

We rate it True.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Fact-check: Has Biden 'issued more executive fiats' in his first days in office than any other president?

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