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Cass R. Sunstein

Here’s How Executive Orders Actually Work (Hint: Slowly)

Be patient, voters. New rules on climate and other priorities won’t come quickly. Possible exception: Covid-19.

It takes awhile.

It takes awhile.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Facing urgent national challenges and probably a Republican-controlled Senate, President-elect Joe Biden will need to use executive actions to respond to problems such as Covid-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change. To understand how that works, it is essential to ask: What are executive actions, anyway? How do they happen? How fast, and how slow?

The answers speak volumes about the operation of U.S. government, particularly but not only when Congress is gridlocked.