For the last five years, you’ve heard us remind you time and time again that the most effective thing you can do as a constituent is pressure your own member of Congress to take legislative action. It’s where you have the most leverage. That’s still true — legislation is better and longer-lasting than actions taken by the Executive office (more on that below!). But, we’re in a critical moment to demand bold action from the Biden administration and, if we’re successful, win meaningful and immediate improvements to peoples’ lives.
Why do we think we need executive action right now?
- The American people can’t afford to wait! Our federal government can and must implement both legislative and executive reforms at the same time to address a variety of issues that families are facing today!
- The Biden Administration has the power to deliver many important promises he made without Congress (remember President Obama implemented DACA via executive action!)
We know this is different from what you have heard us say. Which is why in this explainer, we’re going to cover:
- What we need from our government in this moment (read: legislation and executive action)
- A 101 explanation of executive action
- An overview of some specific areas in which we want to see executive action from the administration
- How you can pressure your members of Congress and the administration to deliver meaningful policies to help people right now
- A few examples of tried and true administrative advocacy tactics to get you thinking (with more to come!)
Then, you’ll be ready to get to work pressuring your members of Congress and President Biden in a campaign that we’re calling Let’s Go Joe!
What We Need from Our Government in This Moment
Since taking office, the Biden administration has rolled back some of Trump’s harmful policies like the Muslim ban, ACA sabotage, and climate change denialism. But undoing what Trump did isn’t nearly enough. We need the Biden administration to go beyond just undoing harm and to focus on proactive, affirmative progress that delivers real help for people across the board.
What has Congress done so far? Congress, with Democrats in the majority, were successful in passing the American Rescue Plan (ARP), which was critical in providing the temporary relief many families needed, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will make some important long-term investments, but will take more time to yield benefits. But much more is needed to truly respond to the economic and health crises families were—and still are—facing right now.
The Biden administration has the power to change the course we are on. For starters, President Biden needs to bring Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to the table to immediately pass the Build Back Better Act (more on that here). In parallel, President Biden can and must take robust executive action across a multitude of issue areas to deliver for all of us.
To be very clear: our federal government can and must implement both legislative and executive reforms at the same time. Congress and the Administration (White House and Federal Agencies) need to do their jobs. That means full steam ahead on implementing bold executive actions and much needed legislation. This is not a zero sum game and we aren't going to accept any excuses. American families need transformative change now.
Administrative Advocacy: Executive Action 101
To start, get yourself acquainted with the term Administrative Advocacy. It is just like it sounds: advocating for change from the Administration or the Executive branch of government. So how do you influence the President and Federal Agencies?
You’ve likely heard two different terms used interchangeably in the media when talking about things that a President does: executive action and executive orders. They aren’t exactly the same (this NPR piece from 2014 is a good place to start to understand the difference).
A presidential executive order (E.O.) “is a directive issued to federal agencies, department heads, or other federal employees by the President of the United States under his statutory or constitutional powers.” Executive orders are legally binding and required to be published in the Federal Register.
A presidential executive action (E.A.) is more of a catch-all term referring to any action taken by the executive branch (Biden & federal agencies) to interpret, implement, and enforce agency authority granted by existing laws. This can be in the form of a federal agency issuing rules, regulations, and policies, and—like we said above— Presidential executive orders.
For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to be referring to this campaign as pushing the Biden administration to take Executive Action, but as we just explained the specific action may be a presidential E.O. or agency rule/regulation/policy change for each of our priority issues.
How common are Executive Actions?
As we said above, executive actions are a very common occurrence for federal agencies who publish thousands every year. Executive orders are also a very normal thing for presidents to do! Some of our most historic presidents hold the record for highest number of executive orders issued. Coming in first is Franklin D. Roosevelt who signed over 3,000 executive orders while in office and with far less, second place goes to Woodrow Wilson who signed just over 1,800. Unfortunately, President Obama did not take full advantage of executive orders until fairly late into his second term. Most notably the historic DACA program was implemented via executive order and has enabled roughly 832,881 undocumented eligible young adults to lawfully remain in the United States.
If Executive Action is so common, why haven’t we done more Administrative Advocacy?
While executive action typically happens at a higher volume and frequency than passing legislation, it still comes with it’s own risks. For example, executive actions can be repealed by the next sitting president, rules and regulations take a great amount of time to take effect, Congress can pass new laws to limit agency authority, and ultimately some executive actions can be struck down by the courts. The fragility of how long a policy will be in place is the largest reason we have prioritized focusing our capacity on legislation.
If Legislation is Better Than Executive Action, Why Focus on Pushing Biden Right Now?
We told you we would always be honest with you. And given the slow walking happening to deliver a historic reconciliation bill by Senators Manchin and Sinema, President Biden must use every tool at his disposal to immediately deliver for American families. . We’re not giving up on the reconciliation bill, but we also need solutions that aren’t held hostage by dysfunction. It’s within President Biden’s authority to deliver critical proposals like lowering prescription drug prices, canceling student debt, climate action, and much more. But it’s up to us to demand it.
And don’t take our word for it — check out this op-ed from Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-07): “This moment for the Biden administration and Congress can either lead to our greatest failure or our greatest success. If we use every tool at our disposal to redouble our efforts to deliver for our communities, with the most urgent needs of the American people as our guide, success is possible.”
Types of Executive Actions We Want to See From President Biden
There are a lot of different actions we could push President Biden to take in this moment. At a high level, we believe that the right set of actions will translate into immediate improvements to people’s lives.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) announced a slate of executive actions that they are pushing the Biden administration to take, and we look forward to fighting alongside them and amplifying their demands in the weeks ahead.
We were already calling for executive action in two key areas that we already know are extremely popular, politically possible, and that align with Indivisible’s core advocacy issues: Climate Action and Canceling Student Debt. BUT we anticipate uplifting more executive actions across these four critical issue areas:
Economic Justice & Tax Fairness
The American Rescue Plan was historically successful at fueling the economy and supporting family budgets. Now, President Biden must go further to build an economy that works for all of us, especially for families who have been marginalized or are feeling a financial squeeze from rising costs. This means bold action like canceling student debt, and fixing outdated overtime pay rules to give millions of workers a raise. It means using federal contracting and tax regulations to support high-road employers, reversing Trump-era giveaways to corporations to outsource jobs, dodge taxes, or violate labor laws. It means going after white collar criminals who are taking advantage of increased inflation to price gouge the public on basic necessities. And it means Investing in our care economy by supporting care workers and protecting nursing home residents.
The science is clear that we have very little time left to make the drastic changes needed to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. President Biden needs to use all the tools at his disposal to address the climate crisis. This means supporting a historic transition to a clean, renewable energy future, ending our reliance on dirty and costly fossil fuels, addressing pollution, and prioritizing green investments to all our communities, but especially those on the frontlines of this crisis. President Biden must keep his promise to take bold action to combat climate change and ensure a health habitable planet for future generations.
Healthcare & Lowering Prescription Drug Prices
Everyday that our government fails to take the bold action required to end this deadly global pandemic, the cycle continues, more people get sick, more people will face the long-term effects of getting sick with COVID, and we increase the chance that new dangerous variants emerge. All the while, pharmaceutical companies, private insurers, and other for-profit healthcare industries, who received government subsidies, continue to price gouge and deny care to patients in need. President Biden has the power to stop the price gouging on prescription drugs, protect and improve healthcare coverage for many Americans, and immediately waive pharma monopoly rights on COVID vaccines and therapeutics which were developed with tax-payer funds, and share that technology and recipes with the rest of the world to once and for all end this pandemic.
Other Racial Justice Reforms (like Immigration and more)
In the aftermath of the historically cruel and anti-immigrant Trump Administration, we have needed bold action on immigrant rightsUnfortunately, efforts to include citizenship in Build Back Better have been repeatedly blocked by the Senate parliamentarian, and the Biden Administration has done far too little to address rights abuses within the immigration enforcement system. As we continue pushing for legislative change, we must also pressure President Biden and leadership at the Department of Homeland Security to use their existing authority to start delivering the change–to protect people from deportation and to address systemic abuses–he promised.
Additionally, there are key steps the Biden administration can take to address acute causes of racial injustice in the criminal justice system, including clemency reform, preventing the transfer for military equipment to domestic police forces and more.
Why aren’t we pushing for executive actions on voting rights or democracy?
First, Biden has already done a big one on voting rights! Second, there are other executive actions that we’d support, but we think they’re pretty marginal compared to the larger slate our progressive allies are working on.
Lastly, the truth is that it’s hard to do EAs on democracy because….of the constitution. Generally, we don’t want the executive office to make major transformative changes to how our democracy functions on a structural level without input from Congress, which is why unilateral action on this issue isn’t really possible. Consider what Trump could have done as president if it was.