Every presidential administration reaches a point where the president is tempted to take lawmaking matters into his own hands. “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” Barack Obama famously put it. Frustrated by a Congress that can’t or won’t accede to their preferred policies, presidents turn to executive orders and executive agencies to achieve their goals. Although the motive might be characterized as a president’s impatience with the political process or dissatisfaction with likely compromises, our history books are filled with instances of presidents acting unilaterally — Harry Truman’s seizure of the nation’s steel mills during the Korean War, Richard Nixon’s attempt to impound congressionally appropriated funds, and Abraham Lincoln’s wartime suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
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