DACA decision highlights the allure – and pitfalls – of executive authority

President Trump has spent his first months in office laying waste to key elements of President Barack Obama’s legacy.

He abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Mr. Obama’s signature trade deal, and announced the United States withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. Gone, too, is the ability of openly transgender people to join the US military.

And in perhaps his most explosive decision of all, Mr. Trump this week announced the end of DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the 2012 Obama maneuver that has shielded nearly 800,000 undocumented young adults from deportation and allowed them to work.

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“It seems like his main agenda is to undo everything Obama did,” quipped late-night host Jimmy Kimmel. “I hope he doesn’t bring bin Laden back to life.”

All joking aside, Trump’s aggressive use of the executive authority granted American presidents is hardly unusual. Obama himself was accused of being an “imperial president,” just as he had accused his predecessor, George W. Bush, of regularly circumventing Congress. Richard Nixon, Harry Truman, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were all parties to famous Supreme Court cases involving presidential actions.


But the Trump presidency presents a unique proposition. After decades in business, Trump entered the Oval Office with no experience in government, and the mindset of a CEO.

“Trump is a businessman who is accustomed to making unilateral decisions,” says Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School and a scholar on presidential executive power. “It can be an irresistible temptation to dash off executive orders, when you grow impatient with the pace of change.”

Trump’s “travel ban,” an executive order that bars citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US, shows that he’s about more than just undoing the Obama legacy. He’s also about enacting his own agenda – fast. The first version, which was issued just a week into his presidency and sowed disarray at airports around the world, was redone in March. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the ban in October.

But as with many things Trump, his approach to executive power isn’t so simple. He rescinded DACA, and gave Congress a six-month window to come up with a solution – to some constitutional scholars, like Professor Turley, the appropriate venue for immigration reform in the first place.

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