Reversing Bush's Executive Orders May Take Time

Allies may be dismayed to learn that President Obama can't turn American foreign policy on a dime when he takes office in January, say executive-power scholars. Only a few components of U.S. policy flow from the Oval Office in the form of revocable "executive orders," the commands that presidents sometimes revoke in the first few days. Obama is expected to reverse a few of these—such as the global gag rule, which keeps U.S. money from family-planning groups that provide (or suggest) abortions. But, says Phillip J. Cooper of Portland State University, President Bush made policy using instruments like classified "national security directives," presidential memoranda and signing statements that aren't all listed in the Federal Register, the daily journal of the U.S. government rules and amendments. Digging up every message Bush sent to executive agencies—on subjects from Gitmo to development aid—could take months. Change, it turns out, takes time.

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