In his first 48 hours in office, Mr. Biden cranked out about 30 executive orders, of which 14 target a broad range of Trump executive mandates, with the remainder aimed at implementing emergency measures intended to deal with the pandemic and the economic crisis.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say that most of what Trump did can be undone in an afternoon. It’s going to take at least ten days,” said John D. Podesta, a former adviser to President Barack Obama who lobbied for the targeted use of executive action in Mr. Obama’s second term when congressional Republicans blocked his environmental and immigration proposals.
One former senior Trump aide, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear or retaliation, agreed. “Very little of what Trump did was done to ensure permanence. At the pace Biden is moving, everything Trump did will be gone by the time the sun rises on Monday — except his judicial appointments.”
Lyndon B. Johnson, the most skilled legislator-president in the country’s recent history, explained why he had resisted the temptation to ram through landmark civil rights reforms by using executive orders.
Pursuing a legislative path was tougher and led to an uncertain outcome, but he wanted his reforms to endure, Johnson explained, and to do so they required the stubborn force of law.
Black leaders “wanted to me to issue an executive order, and proclaim this by presidential edict,” said Mr. Johnson, speaking of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 — an approach that, he concluded, “would not be very effective if the Congress had not legislated.”
If Mr. Trump needed a more contemporary lesson than Mr. Johnson’s, he only had to look back to his predecessor, Mr. Obama, who endured a protracted and messy process to pass the Affordable Care Act — a law that has endured, albeit weakened, despite Mr. Trump’s repeated efforts to destroy it.
Whether Mr. Biden will also become overly reliant on executive action remains an open question. But as a guide, some on Mr. Biden’s team are using a 140-page law review article from 2001 by Justice Elena Kagan of the Supreme Court, then a professor at Harvard Law School, which charts a middle course, supporting the use of executive power as a tool for regulatory efforts but not as a license to unilaterally dictate every action taken by presidential subordinates.