Document shows Bernie Sanders’s team preparing dozens of potential executive orders

Source: By Jeff Stein and Sean Sullivan, Washington Post • Posted: Sunday, February 9, 2020

Rising in the polls ahead of the Iowa caucuses, the candidate considers spelling out how he could go around Congress if elected president

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) exits the room after speaking to volunteers and supporters at the Ankeny Field Office during a campaign stop on Jan. 26 in Ankeny, Iowa. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) exits the room after speaking to volunteers and supporters at the Ankeny Field Office during a campaign stop on Jan. 26 in Ankeny, Iowa. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is considering dozens of executive orders he could unilaterally enact on a wide range of domestic policy issues if elected president, including immigration, the environment and prescription drugs, according to two people familiar with the campaign’s planning and an internal document reviewed by The Washington Post.

Sanders has risen in national and early-state polling in the final days before Monday’s Iowa caucuses, the first contest in the Democratic presidential primary, which has fueled concerns among some party insiders that he could win the nomination.

Aides have presented Sanders with a list of possible executive actions, including more than a dozen options for reversing President Trump’s immigration policy, such as lifting the cap on the number of refugees accepted into the United States and immediately halting border wall construction. Another option is the reinstatement of an Obama-era program that granted legal status to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

The document reviewed by The Washington Post shows how the Sanders campaign has already begun extensive planning for how the senator would lead the country in his first days as president if he won the Democratic nomination and defeated Trump in November. Many of the proposals Sanders has floated on the campaign trail do not have support from congressional Republicans and are opposed by some Democrats, so a willingness to move forward without congressional approval could determine whether many of his policies are enacted.

The list of potential executive orders includes unilaterally allowing the United States to import prescription drugs from Canada, directing the Justice Department to legalize marijuana, and declaring climate change a national emergency while banning the exportation of crude oil. Other options cited in the document include canceling federal contracts for firms paying workers less than $15 an hour and reversing federal rules blocking U.S. funding to organizations that provide abortion counseling.

The campaign’s potential executive orders come amid increased scrutiny about how Sanders, one of the most left-leaning members in Congress, would attempt to advance his agenda. One of Sanders’s top rivals on the campaign trail, former vice president Joe Biden, has talked about working with Republicans in some cases to enact his agenda. Sanders’s approach appears to be different.

The senator is reviewing the list of possible executive orders but has not signed off on when they would be released or their scope, according to the two people with knowledge of the planning, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. Those officials said the document was prepared by Faiz Shakir, Sanders’s campaign manager; Warren Gunnels, a senior adviser; and Josh Orton, the campaign policy director, as well as other policy staff.

“As we continue discussing the early work of your presidency and the progress we can make, below for review is a brief overview of executive actions you could take early in your administration,” the document states. “We cannot accept delays from Congress on some of the most pressing issues, especially those like immigration where Trump has governed with racism and for his own corrupt benefit.”

A Sanders campaign spokesman, Mike Casca, did not challenge the veracity of the document but declined to comment on the potential executive orders.

“We’re focused on organizing a huge voter turnout in Iowa on Monday,” Casca said in a statement.

The unilateral actions considered by Sanders’s campaign are likely to be fiercely opposed by conservatives and even moderate liberals. Sanders could face criticism for moving to take more power away from the legislative branch amid ever-expanding executive authority, although he has been a vocal proponent of giving Congress more power over the country’s wars and military interventions. Many Democrats and some Republicans have criticized Trump for the numerous executive orders he signed in the early part of his presidency.

“Every time a president leaves office, they leave office with more power the next president in line can take and expand,” said Jason Pye, vice president of legislative affairs for FreedomWorks, a conservative group. “You’re getting to the point where the legislative branch has lost so much of its power … it almost does not matter. And that should concern every person in this country.”

Sanders has already released a slew of legislative proposals that would have to be approved by Congress, including a “Medicare-for-all” single-payer health-care system and a Green New Deal to remake the nation’s energy system.

He has faced questions from voters in recent weeks on the campaign trail about how he would deal with Republican resistance in Congress should he be elected and made to work with a GOP-dominated Senate.

“I love your ideas, Bernie,” a woman told him at a town hall in Anamosa, Iowa, in January. “But what are you going to do about the partisanship that prevents any good Democrat from getting anywhere in Congress right now?”

Sanders replied, “We’re going to run a different type of presidency.”

Sanders also said he was prepared to make his case to voters, even in red states, in a bid to pressure Republican lawmakers to support his agenda.

“It’s not just sitting down and arguing with Mitch McConnell,” he said, referring to the Republican Senate majority leader. “It is getting people to stand up and fight back.”

On the campaign trail, Sanders talks frequently about implementing sweeping changes in the way the government deals with health care, climate change and the economy, but he often discusses enacting those changes through legislation rather than through executive orders.

Other possible executive orders being considered include the immediate release of disaster aid to Puerto Rico and a review of federal policies toward Native American tribal groups.

“Bernie will try to do all he can do with executive orders as quickly as he can, while fully cognizant of the fact much more will have to be done by legislative means,” said Robert C. Hockett, a professor at Cornell University who has advised Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on economic policy matters. “The idea is to get as much done as you can, as quickly as you can.”