Trump looks to use executive orders to move agenda beyond coronavirus

The shift in strategy is aimed at bolstering confidence in the president's leadership amid criticism of his handling of the pandemic.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks to the media in the Oval Office on Monday.Evan Vucci / AP

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By Carol E. Lee, Kristen Welker and Pete Williams

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is preparing to sign a range of executive orders as part of a shift in White House strategy to boost Americans' confidence in his leadership amid widespread criticism of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, administration officials said.

The White House is trying to reposition the president as proactive, rather than on the defensive over his response to the coronavirus, as he trails the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, in multiple polls less than four months before the election.

The strategy is coupled with a plan for Trump to return to headlining coronavirus briefings, which he stopped attending in April after even some of his allies said they were too long and wide-ranging and were hurting the president.

A senior administration official said the executive orders will include policy changes on immigration, the census, prescription drugs and health care. While declining to discuss further details, the official said the executive actions would call for a "merit based" immigration system and address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which has allowed nearly 800,000 young people, known as Dreamers, to avoid deportation.

Trump has tried to shut down the program, which his predecessor, Barack Obama, created through executive order, and last month the Supreme Court ruled that his administration couldn't end the program simply by declaring it illegal. Still, the White House plans to seize on the ruling as license to take broad executive actions, the senior administration official said.

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Trump has said several times that the Supreme Court's DACA ruling gave him new authority or invited him to take additional steps. It did neither, nor could the Supreme Court expand a president's authority.

"It's essentially implementing policy to the extent we can," according to the senior administration official, adding that the White House counsel's office is confident that the president is on solid legal ground.

Trump has struggled to get legislative traction on his immigration initiatives after 3½ years in office. And he has been unsuccessful in securing a health care bill, as he promised during the 2016 campaign, even when Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress.

The White House anticipates legal challenges to some of the executive actions the president plans to roll out in coming weeks. The senior administration official said the first executive order will likely be about the census or prescription drugs, which would be aimed at lowering prices.

The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision on DACA said the administration needed to take a different approach to shut down the program. Trump said his administration would put forward a different approach to address the ruling, but it has yet to do so.

Trump and his allies have said for weeks that he's looking to take significant executive actions on immigration and health care.

In an interview Sunday with Fox News, Trump said he would take action on health care. Two weeks ago, he said something similar about DACA.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said June 9 that Trump was looking to enact "executive orders that will actually make a big difference," specifically ones crafted to lower prescription drug prices.