[…] The good news, such as it is, is that the executive branch is only supposed to execute the law, not make it. This means that some of Trump’s executive orders are more symbolic nods to his base than a real change in governance.
For instance, Trump has loudly celebrated his Wednesday executive order calling for “the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border.” But presidents can only spend money that’s been appropriated by Congress, for the purposes Congress directed.
So if you read deep into the executive order, you’ll find that it merely instructs the secretary of homeland security to “identify and, to the extent permitted by law, allocate all sources of federal funds for the planning, designing, and constructing of a physical wall.” This means the secretary will look at money already appropriated by Congress and try to find some designated for a purpose that could somehow be interpreted as “build the wall.”
In other words, Trump’s order sets his administration looking under the federal budget’s sofa cushions for spare change, which is not going to add up to anything like the $20-$40 billion the wall would cost.
When Trump excitedly tweeted that “we will build the wall!” it actually just meant “we will build the wall if someday Congress gives me money for it!” — something that was true before he signed the executive order.