George W. Bush's first executive order when he took the mantle of president of the United States in 2001 was to create the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Bill Clinton signed an executive order undoing restrictions on abortion advocacy funding when he came into office in 1993. Presidents issue executive orders to direct federal agencies, and these orders have the force of law in some cases.
When either Barack Obama or John McCain takes office in January, he can put his own priorities into action.
Executive orders can be controversial because the U.S. Constitution is not specific about them other than to designate "executive power" to the president. President Bush has used a broader interpretation of executive powers than his recent predecessors, asserting among other things that the president can issue executive orders that override laws in issues of national security. Both Obama and McCain have said they would not use executive power as extensively as President Bush has.
Over the course of his two terms, Bill Clinton issued 364 executive orders. So far President Bush has signed 277, with 54 issued in his first year of office.
"I expect a Democratic administration to do something along the lines of Clinton," said Michael Barone, a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute and senior writer for U.S. News and World Report.
Obama has said he would issue an executive order to enact federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, in line with congressional legislation, according to The Hill. McCain has supported federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research in the past as well.
Some reports are circulating that Obama would enact the "Fairness Doctrine," a policy that would require media to present opposing viewpoints in public issues.
The Federal Communications Commission adopted the Fairness Doctrine in 1949 and abolished it in 1987. In June an Obama spokesman denied that the candidate had any intention of reinstating the policy.
But with a Democratic Congress, a President Obama would not need to use executive orders as a way to pursue his priorities by circumventing the legislative bodies. A President McCain would, since executive orders do not need congressional approval.
McCain has said he would only exercise executive power within what is lawful, a departure from President Bush's executive orders, which included suspending habeas corpus rights for terrorist combatants.
But the Republican candidate would still use executive orders to be hands-on in federal agencies. He has suggested that he would use executive powers to fire the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Chris Cox.
In a recent appearance on "Late Show With David Letterman," McCain promised his first executive order would be to cap any rise in taxes. He has also said he would issue an anti-earmark executive order.
As one of his last executive orders, President Bush began the official transition process for the next president, and White House staff members have been meeting with representatives from both presidential campaigns over the past three weeks.