Trump says he has signed more legislation than any president, ever. He hasn’t.
WASHINGTON – To hear President Trump tell it, his first six months in the White House should be judged in part by the legislation he has signed into law.
At rallies, in speeches and on Twitter, Trump repeatedly boasts of the bills he has signed – 42 as of this week. He has said no president has “passed more legislation,” conceding once earlier this year that he trails Franklin D. Roosevelt, who he notes “had a major Depression to handle.”
On Monday, he went even further, claiming to have bested all of his predecessors in turning bills into law.
“We’ve signed more bills – and I’m talking about through the Legislature – than any president, ever,” Trump said at a “Made in America” event at the White House. “For a while, Harry Truman had us. And now, I think, we have everybody.”
Turning to Vice President Pence, he added an aside about news media fact-checkers: “I better say ‘think’; otherwise they will give you a Pinocchio. And I don’t like Pinocchios.”
In fact, as he approaches six months in office Thursday, Trump is slightly behind the lawmaking pace for the past six presidents, who as a group signed an average of 43 bills during the same period. And an analysis of the bills Trump signed shows that about half were minor and inconsequential, passed by Congress with little debate. Among recent presidents, both the total number of bills he signed and the legislation’s substance make Trump about average.
President Jimmy Carter signed 70 bills in the first six months, according to an analysis of bills signed by previous White House occupants. Bill Clinton signed 50. George W. Bush signed 20 bills into law. Barack Obama signed 39 bills during the period, including an $800 billion stimulus program to confront an economic disaster, legislation to make it easier for women to sue for equal pay, a bill to give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco and an expansion of the federal health insurance program for children.
Truman and Roosevelt both had signed more bills into law by their 100day mark than Trump did in almost twice that time. Truman had signed 55 bills and Roosevelt had signed 76 during their first 100 days.
Trump has signed several significant bills, many in the works on Capitol Hill since well before he arrived in the Oval Office, as is often the case for new presidents.
Trump’salliespointtoabillhesigned to improve accountability and overhaul services at the scandal-plagued Veterans Affairs Department.
They note that the president signed into law spending plans that will significantly raise federal expenditures on the military and border security. And they say Trump and the Republicanled Congress worked to methodically reduce the burden of government regulation. That effort to undo regulation involved 15 new laws, which were the result of an aggressive push to employ a little-used legislative tool to roll back government rules put in place by Obama. Those new laws could result in a significant shift in the way government regulates employee benefits, worker safety, the environment, public lands and education.
“These repeal bills are now law, which means those Obama regulations have been struck from the books – forever,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said recently.
And legislation is not the only tool presidents can wield to enact their agendas. His aides note that Trump has used executive orders, such as his ban on travel to the United States for refugees and those living in some Muslim countries, to get around what they say is unprecedented obstruction by Democrats. And he successfully won confirmation of Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
But almost half the other bills Trump has signed into law are ceremonial or routine. The president includes in his count laws like the one to rename the federal courthouse in Nashville, Tenn., after Fred Thompson, the actor and former senator who died in 2015. Even the Republican leadership in the Senate does not count those kinds of bills when they tally their legislative achievements.
By contrast, Trump’s tally includes three laws to appoint members to the Smithsonian Board of Regents, another to seek research into better weather reports, and one to require the Department of Homeland Security to manage its fleet of vehicles more efficiently.
Marc Short, the president’s top legislative adviser, acknowledged that no one would try to claim that renaming a building should be considered “landmark legislation.” But he defended the president’s repeated promotion of the bills he has signed into law.
“It’s a response to a lot of media coverage that has tried to downplay what he’s accomplished,” Short said. “There’s an overarching coverage about what’s not been accomplished. The president is trying to point out what we actually have done.”
Trump has signed two budget bills that would be required of any president. He signed a law largely endorsing the budget for NASA that Obama had laid out. And Trump temporarily extended Obama’s program that gives veterans a choice of seeing a private doctor in certain cases.
The president complains that he has not gotten the news coverage he deserves for his legislative achievements, though his bill signings are often aired live on television and his push to reverse regulations has been widely covered.
Trump may yet assemble a more far-reaching legislative record. Getting comprehensive legislation through Congress and to the president’s desk takes time, even when the president’s party controls both chambers of Congress.