President Donald Trump has not conceded the 2020 election to Joe Biden, but he’s heading into the lame-duck period of his presidency based on voting projections.
“Lame duck” refers to a politician who remains in power but will soon be replaced by a newly elected successor. Typically, this decreases the power of the “lame duck” officeholder as attention shifts to the politician’s incoming replacement.
However, lame-duck presidents have been known to use this period to exercise some of their powers – such as the presidential pardon – with less concern about public opinion.
Here are a few things to know about the term:
Are only presidents called a ‘lame duck’?
No. Other officeholders can also be called “lame ducks.”
The Senate recognizes the term and defines a “‘lame duck’ session” as one that occurs after a November general election and before a new Congress takes power in January: “Some lawmakers who return for this session will not be in the next Congress. Hence, they are informally called ‘lame duck’ members participating in a ‘lame duck’ session.”
Historically, the lame-duck session has not led to significant bipartisan pieces of legislation.
Where does the term come from?
“Lame duck” has gained mainstream recognition over the course of centuries and likely finds its roots in England during the 1700s.
A Denver Post column, citing Brewer’s Dictionary of phrase & Fable, traces the origin of the term to the world of London finance, where it was used to describe an out-of-luck broker who didn’t pay his debts and had to “waddle out of the alley like a lame duck.” (“Exchange Alley” was a London financial hub at the time.)
Over time, it became more commonly used as the political term and is now so widely accepted that it has its own Merriam Webster entry.
Some have criticized the term, however. A 2015 Atlantic report called it “offensive to both humans and, we can reasonably assume, the entire waterfowl community.” Writing about President Barack Obama’s final days, the magazine argued the term undersells how effective “lame duck” presidents can be when freed from concerns about reelection.
What is the ‘Lame Duck Amendment’?
The gap between election and inauguration is much shorter now than it used to be, thanks to the 20th Amendment of the Constitution.
That amendment – nicknamed the “Lame Duck Amendment,” according to the National Archives –was ratified in 1933 and moved up the inauguration and start of a new Congress.
Before the 20th Amendment, the presidential inauguration was held in early March, the archives report. The four-month gap between the election and inauguration used to be necessary in the early days of the country to give new presidents time to uproot their lives and move to the nation’s capital.
Contributing: Nicholas Wu and Christal Hayes, USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump is a ‘lame duck’ president. What does that mean?