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VERIFY: Can a new president reverse executive orders from past administrations?

With Joe Biden projected to be the winner of the 2020 Election, the VERIFY team is looking into whether his administration can reverse Trump's once in office.


Can a new president reverse executive orders signed by previous administrations?


Generally, the answer is yes. A president can revoke, modify, or supersede any executive order signed by a past administration. However, a president will also need the relevant agency to alter their regulations, using a legal justification for the mandate to carry any real significance. 



With the 2020 election in the rearview mirror, many on social media are now focused on what a Biden presidency might look like. Many online are asking about possible executive orders that can be taken by president-elect Joe Biden. 

The VERIFY Team looked into whether a new president has the power to reverse orders made by the previous administrations. 

Can a president reverse executive orders?

The Congressional Research Service released a report that focused on this topic in 2014. 

"By their very nature..." the report read. "Executive orders lack stability, especially in the face of evolving presidential priorities. The president is free to revoke, modify, or supersede his own orders or those issued by a predecessor."

But Alan B. Morrison, an Associate Dean at The George Washington University Law School said that there's more to this.

When a president issues an executive order, they’re often telling an agency what to do. That agency then creates or amends its regulations. 

For this reason, when a new president signs an executive order of their own to rescind a previous order, they also need the agency in question to change their regulations. That agency must provide an adequate legal justification for the change.

“For example, if a rule that DHS put in effect was subject to public notice and comment," said Morrison. "The Biden administration would have to follow the same procedures in getting rid of that.” 

Morrison brought up the DACA executive order as a prime example.

In 2017, the Trump administration announced a plan to phase out DACA, which lead to a 2020 Supreme Court Case. The court decided to block the rescission, calling it "arbitrary and capricious."

"In regards to DACA," said Morrison. "The president just ordered them (DHS) to do it. And they didn't do a very good job with it, because they didn't comply with the statues. They didn't give a reasoned decision. And so that has to happen in reverse now. They have to give - they being DHS - has to give reasons for why it's changing their mind. Not just because the President told them to do so."

How many executive orders have previous presidents issued?

According to the National Archives, President Trump has issued 194 executive orders in just one term. Here's how that count compares to past administrations:

  • Barack Obama: 276 (2 Terms)
  • George W. Bush: 291 (2 Terms)
  • Bill Clinton: 364 (2 Terms) 
  • George HW Bush: 166 (1 Term)
  • Ronald Reagan: 381 (2 Terms) 
  • Jimmy Carter: 320 (1 Term)

To look through the entire list of executive orders, click here.