What do US presidents and their executive branches (like immigration related agencies, e.g. USCIS, ICE) usually do during their lame duck periods?

  • Push harder forward their policy plans/proposals and enforcement, because it is their last chance?
  • or the opposite?
  • 6
    I think this is going to depend a lot on each president
    – Joe W
    Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 1:04
  • @JoeW that’s why the OP says “usually” Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 18:29

2 Answers 2


What do US presidents and their executive branches usually do during their lame duck periods?

They issue pardons, typically including pardoning a turkey from execution shortly before Thanksgiving Day.

Traditionally, not much is done in the case where the incoming President comes from the opposing party. In the case where an outgoing President does do something dramatic, people remember that, and are reminded of that, in subsequent elections. In this case, who knows?

  • 5
    Late-presidency pardons are actually a more serious matter than this answer makes it out to be. It's actually very common to issue a large number of presidential pardons or commute sentences in the last days of the presidency, including some of the more controversial ones. Bill Clinton pardoned/commuted 140 people on his last day of office, Obama pardoned or commuted sentences of 681 people during his lame duck period.
    – Philipp
    Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 13:50
  • @Philipp In my opinion, a President issuing hundreds of pardons / commuted sentences does not qualify as significant. Those pardons / commuted sentences have rather limited impact beyond the hundreds of directly affected people. That limited impact is why I intentionally downplayed the human pardons with the traditional Thanksgiving turkey pardon. Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 14:27

A good president will finish of the things they really wanted to finish, generally tidy stuff up, then prepare the ground for the next president, so leaving the shop ticking over nicely.

A bad president will get in a last round of graft, pardon their criminal friends, throw up some bad legislation, then try and wreck the place before the next one takes over.

Plenty of examples in history...

  • Examples of good presidents?
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 11:47

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