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Sorting out the truth in politics

Obama has signed 168 executive orders, not 1,000+

The statement

President Barack Obama has issued upward of 1,000 executive orders, more than any modern president.

Chain email

The ruling

The tradition of executive orders dates back to our first president, George Washington, though it was used sparingly through the first 100 years of the union.

Executive orders are official actions taken by the president directing the federal government and bureaucracies. They carry the power of law, but can be revoked or amended by future administrations and are limited in scope. For example, Obama cannot use executive orders to raise the minimum wage for the entire country, but he can (and plans to) raise the minimum wage for workers hired under new federal contracts to $10.10 an hour.

The process picked up under Ulysses S. Grant, who issued 217 executive orders, nearly 140 more than his predecessor Andrew Johnson, who himself almost doubled Abraham Lincoln, the previous record holder.

After Grant, it became commonplace for presidents to issue more than 100 executive orders. In fact, four presidents have eclipsed 1,000 executive orders: Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (Notice Obama is absent from that list.)

FDR holds the record with 3,522 executive orders during his 12-plus years in office.

But according to the chain email, FDR used his pen infrequently and issued a paltry 11 executive orders — another inaccuracy. (See the chart at right.)

It's obvious the chain email is way off. Not only is Obama far from the most prolific user of executive orders, at this point he's not even on pace to surpass President George W. Bush's total. In fact, unless he picks up speed, Obama will likely sign fewer executive orders than any two-term president since the start of the 20th century.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire.

Steve Contorno, Times staff writer

Edited for print. Read the full version at

Executive orders by president

Here's the incorrect tallies of presidential executive orders in the chain email versus the actual numbers, provided by the University of California at Santa Barbara's American Presidency Project.

President Executive orders according to email Actual number of executive orders
Franklin D. Roosevelt 11 3,522
Harry Truman 7 907
Dwight Eisenhower 2 484
John F. Kennedy 4 214
Lyndon Johnson 4 325
Richard Nixon 1 346
Gerald Ford 3 169
Jimmy Carter 3 320
Ronald Reagan 5 381
George H.W. Bush 3 166
Bill Clinton 15 364
George W. Bush 62 291
Barack Obama 1,000+ 168*

*As of Jan. 20, 2014

Obama has signed 168 executive orders, not 1,000+ 02/10/14 [Last modified: Monday, February 10, 2014 11:22pm]
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