Henry read a USA Today article which revealed that when his executive orders are combined with his executive memoranda, President Obama has taken more executive actions than his predecessors, so he asked Earnest for the distinction between the two. But as hard as Henry tried, every time he rephrased the question, Earnest just tap-danced around an answer.
Henry: USA Today has taken a look, and you will remember some months ago the President claimed that he was using executive orders at the lowest rate in more than 100 years. When USA Today looked at the fine print, yes, 195 executive orders, less than Democratic and Republican predecessors. But when you add on 198 presidential memorandum, it actually turns out he is using a lot more executive action than his predecessors, right?
Earnest: I think there is no doubt that the President has sought to use executive authority to move this country forward within the confines of the law, oftentimes in the face of congressional inaction that I wouldn’t disagree with.
Henry: Why did you make the claim that there was this criticism that I’m acting on an executive basis, and I’m doing that at the lowest level in 100 years, that wasn’t really true, right?
Earnest: It was true because the number of executive orders that this President has issued is lower, as you pointed out, than executive orders that have been issued by many of his previous predecessors.
Henry: Presidential memorandum have essentially the same effect. It’s called something different, but the fact of the matter is he is taking a lot more executive action.
Earnest: There is an important difference between executive orders and presidential memorandums. But I would grant the premise the President has used every element at his disposal to try to move the country forward and he has done that in a way consistent with the law, that is consistent with precedent, and often carried out in the face of pretty rigid congressional obstruction.
Henry: What do you see as that distinction? I understand the legal difference but big picture, what is the difference? It is still executive action, so what is the big difference according to you and the President?
Earnest: Generally speaking, presidential memorandums—presidential memoranda are associated with more technical issues and are often directives that are related to a subset of agencies. Executive orders therefore are often more sweeping and often more impactful. But again I would readily concede this President has using executive orders and presidential memoranda, used his executive authority to move the country forward as much as he possibly can. And whether it’s taking action on climate change, adding some accountability to our broken immigration system, or even relaxing the failed trade restriction policies as it relates to Cuba, the President has taken a number of steps using his executive authority to move the country forward. I recognize that this was something done over the objection of many members of Congress. But frankly, a lot of this was done because Congress was refusing to act.
Henry: You said executive orders usually are more sweeping, but it in the case of immigration, which you would acknowledge was pretty sweeping, it was a presidential memorandum not an executive order.
Earnest: That’s correct.
Henry: So by your definition … I am slightly confused.
The exchanged continued, Henry tried to nail down an answer, Earnest doing his best to avoid answering.