Trump Sets Modern Record for Least Number of Bills Signed into Law

Friday, January 05, 2018
Presidents Clinton and G.W. Bush outdid Trump in bill-signing by more than 2-to-1 (photo: Jim Watson, Getty Images)



As of today, President Trump has signed the fewest bills into law by this point in any president’s first year at least as far back as President Eisenhower.


Throughout 2017, the President and Republican leaders in Congress have touted their passing of the most legislation in modern history. On his 100th day in office, the President announced he had signed the most bills of any president since Truman — and repeated it many times (it wasn’t entirely true to begin with). House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy recently tweeted that the House of Representatives passed more bills in the President’s first 11 months than in the same time period of the five most recent presidents.


By his own standard, the President has sunk to last place with 94 bills signed into law by his 336th day in office (Dec. 21, 2017). That’s 8 fewer than President George W. Bush and not even half as many as presidents Bill Clinton (209) and George H.W. Bush (242).


The President has not held the title of signing the most new legislation since his 101st day and has been in the bottom half for most of his presidency.


The counts were made on the heels of major legislation the President was expected to sign soon, like the 185-page tax reform bill (which includes a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate) which the President signed on December 22, 2017. Other major policy initiatives, such as disaster relief, a legislative fix to DACA, full repeal or replacement of the Affordable Care Act, and increasing infrastructure spending may soon come into play. But past presidents had major legislation coming up at this point in their terms too, and without a major turn-around the President will remain at or near the bottom.


Counting bills is not a measurement of legislative productivity

There are many reasons why counting bills is not a valuable measurement of productivity, and we might not be writing this post at all if the President had not portrayed his early successes as being about volume.


Not all bills are equally important — the 10 bills this year naming post offices, creating memorials, and naming citizens to boards come to mind. The size of legislation signed is a better measurement of substance than the count of presidential signatures, and when we looked at pages of bills signed into law, President Obama had signed more than 15 times as much legislation than President Trump by their 100th days.


But if you were happy Trump hasn’t signed much legislation, think again. Trump’s 2,038 pages (as of Dec. 21) put him in 4th place — well behind Obama’s 3,473 pages but more than twice as much as George W. Bush by this point in their first years.


On the other hand, not all short bills lack substance. Several dozen of the new laws this year repealed regulations in only one or two pages, and those wouldn’t be given a fair shake by looking at page counts only.


And many Americans — including the President — would prefer there to be fewer laws and shorter laws, not more and more complex laws. (Indeed, the President has celebrated repealing regulations, i.e. the laws created by federal agencies when authorized by laws passed by Congress.) But it takes a law to repeal a law, and only the few people who are content with the status quo would want lawmaking to stop completely.


What everyone wants is good laws, not more laws. Counting legislation is only as meaningful as the substance in it.


What else the President has done

Signing bills sent to him by Congress is only one way the President creates law or takes action. While there have been few bills signed, there has been presidential action in other ways:


·       The President has appointed the most appellate judges in any president’s first year, though he lags in civilian appointments to top federal agency positions.


·       The President has issued many major executive orders, many on immigration issues, creating federal policy without Congress. Many of those executive orders were halted in the courts, however.


·       The President has also made many foreign policy changes, such as pulling out of the Paris climate change agreement and recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.


·       The President has claimed that he has slowed the growth of federal regulations, but that’s in question.



We counted laws using our legislative data on GovTrack based on information from the Library of Congress ( and the Statutes at Large published by the Government Publishing Office. Our counts are of all enacted legislation, including joint resolutions, from inauguration day through December 21st of each president’s first year in office. Eisenhower is the first president for which data is readily available.


You can see the full list of Trump’s laws on GovTrack, but this link starts at the beginning of the congressional session so it includes one law signed by Obama the morning of inauguration day. Trump’s 94 laws are Pub.L. 115–2 through Pub.L. 115–94, plus S. 1266 which was signed on December 20.


Trump is in 10th place, after Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama.


Truman, Johnson and Ford are excluded from this analysis because their first years in office did not coincide with the start of a congressional session, as was the case for the other presidents. But, for reference, Truman signed 126 bills into law in his first 100 days.


Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Nixon signed a large number of so-called “private laws,” which generally addressed immigration issues of one person or a family. Removing private legislation from the counts does not significantly change the rankings.


To Learn More:

Obama has Issued Fewest Vetoes of any Two-Term President Since James Monroe…for the Moment (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)

Congress Set to Break Record for Passing Fewest Laws…2 per Month (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Current Congress Has Passed Fewer Bills than any Since at Least the 1940s (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

In 2011, Fewer Laws and Fewer Confirmations (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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