PHILADELPHIA—There were few things that infuriated congressional Republicans more during Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House than the words “a pen and a phone.” They were shorthand for the president’s aggressive use of executive authority to go around a recalcitrant Congress and achieve his priorities unilaterally, whether on immigration, climate change, or how his administration implemented the Affordable Care Act.
Republican leaders denounced Obama as “lawless.” They tried to stop him legislatively, and when that didn’t work, they sued him.
Now President Trump is pursuing a version of the same strategy. Unwilling to wait for the GOP-led Congress to send him bills to sign, Trump has signed a blizzard of directives during his first week in office to unwind the health insurance law, restrict immigration, construct a Southern border wall, and more.
So is Trump engaging in the same kind of “pen and phone” overreach as Obama did?
“Quite the opposite,” argued House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday as he briefed reporters at the GOP’s policy retreat in Philadelphia. Trump, he said, was merely reversing orders that stretched the president’s power in the first place.
“Everything that President Obama did by executive order, this new president can undo,” Ryan said. “He’s restoring the proper balance, and in our opinion, he is undoing a lot of damage that was done by the last president, who exceeded his power.” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy took the same position earlier Thursday in an appearance on “Fox and Friends.” “It’s not hypocritical at all,” McCarthy said. “Pretty much what President Trump is doing is undoing President Obama’s executive orders and taking us back to the Constitution.”