At an Oval Office ceremony for the swearing in of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, President Trump announced that he was also going to sign three executive orders “designed to restore safety in America,” to “break the back” of cartels and “stop as of today” violence against the police.
The praise began arriving immediately. “I applaud President Trump for taking action to improve the security of our communities,” Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “President Trump’s executive orders are a good first step toward restoring law and order.”
Still, about 45 minutes later, when the White House released the actual text of the three orders, they turned out to contain few specific policy steps.
For example, the first, on combating international criminal cartels, largely consisted of stating opposition to such groups, and directed the government’s Threat Mitigation Working Group — which already existed because President Barack Obama established it back in 2011 — to review various efforts to battle them and “work to improve” those efforts.
And the other two, on reducing crime and preventing violence against law enforcement officials, directed Mr. Sessions to develop a strategy to achieve those goals by coordinating with other agencies, including at the state and local levels. The new attorney general is also to review existing laws and law enforcement grants and recommend changes if necessary.
Bruce Buchanan, a University of Texas political science professor, said that while Mr. Trump had issued a few “consequential” executive orders early in his presidency — most notably his ban on letting refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations enter the United States — many of his others had used the high-profile step of issuing an order for the purpose of amplifying a political message.
“It sounds like he is attempting to make it appear as if he is pushing forward policy positions that he wants to take some credit for,” Mr. Buchanan said of the Thursday orders. “He wants to be in the papers for having endorsed things he is generally in favor of, even though there’s nothing really new.”
“We have a crime problem,” Mr. Sessions said after being sworn in. “I wish the blip — I wish the rise that we’re seeing in crime in America today were some sort of aberration or a blip. My best judgment, having been involved in criminal law enforcement for many years, is that this is a dangerous, permanent trend.”
Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches criminal law at Columbia University, was less impressed by Mr. Trump’s cartel order, noting that “the targeting of international criminal organizations has always been a high priority, and I supposed he is suggesting that priority will continue.”