Biden to sign flurry of executive actions in first hours of presidency
President-elect Joe Biden will sign more than a dozen executive actions on Wednesday reversing some of President Trump’s signature policy initiatives and setting the tone for the new administration’s focus on COVID-19, the economy, climate change and racial justice.
On Biden’s first day as president, he plans to issue a national mask-wearing “challenge,” stop the construction of the southern border wall, revoke the so-called “Muslim ban” on travel, and rejoin both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Paris agreement on climate change, among many other things.
Biden will sign the mix of 15 executive orders, memoranda, directives and letters from the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon after he is sworn in as president.
Addressing the coronavirus pandemic will be Biden’s top priority.
Biden will first launch a “100 Days Masking Challenge,” asking Americans to cover their faces as much as possible and issuing an executive order requiring social distancing and mask-wearing in federal buildings, on federal land and by all federal employees.
Biden will end Trump’s effort to withdraw from the WHO, making Anthony Fauci the top delegate to the international agency. Fauci will deliver remarks to the WHO on Thursday.
And Biden will sign an executive order bringing a coronavirus task force inside the White House and creating a position of COVID-19 response coordinator who will report directly to him. That position will be held by Jeff Zients, who will be responsible for managing the distribution of the vaccine, tests and personal protective equipment.
“This is clearly a national emergency and we will treat it as such,” said Zients.
On the economy, Biden will extend a federal eviction and foreclosure moratorium until the end of March, while petitioning Congress to extend rental assistance to those in need.
Biden will also ask the Department of Education to extend the pause on interest and principal payments on student loans until September.
“We are at a critical and precarious moment for our economy as the virus trajectory … is intersecting with an economy falling backwards,” said Brian Deese, the incoming director of the National Economic Council.
“Too many Americans are just barely keeping their heads above water,” he added.
On the environment, Biden plans to sign the paperwork to reenter the U.S. into the Paris agreement, which should become official in 30 days time.
Another sweeping order will direct all executive departments and agencies to begin reviewing all federal regulations and executive actions from the past four years to root out those viewed as “harmful to public health, damaging to the environment, unsupported by the best available science, or otherwise not in the national interest.”
The agencies will consider new fuel emissions and building efficiency standards, and will revoke or replace any of Trump’s presidential actions that “do not serve the U.S. national interest,” including the presidential permit Trump granted to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
“Climate change poses an existential threat not just to our environment, but to our health, national security and economic well-being,” said Gina McCarthy, Biden’s national climate adviser. “At this moment of profound crisis, we can build a more resilient economy … that puts us on an irreversible path to achieving net zero emissions economy-wide by 2050.”
Racial justice and equality will be a major focus for the Biden administration, an effort that will be led by Susan Rice in her capacity as director of the Domestic Policy Council.
On his first day, Biden will sign an executive order “embedding equity across federal policymaking and rooting out systemic racism and other barriers to opportunity from federal programs and institutions.”
That order will require federal agencies to “undertake a baseline review of the state of equity” under their purview and to provide more opportunities and engagement with people of color.
The order will also rescind the Trump administration’s 1776 Commission, which Trump said was developed to deliver a “patriotic education” in response to the growing focus on systemic racism in America. A Trump order that limited the ability for government agencies to conduct diversity training will also be revoked.
“Biden has promised to root out systemic racism from our institutions and this is a first step in that historic work,” said Rice.
On national security, Biden will rescind Trump’s order limiting immigration from predominantly Muslim counties, begin accepting new applications under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and eliminate the emergency declaration that was used to divert funding to the construction of a border wall.
“These are the first steps we’ll be taking to re-engage in the world and advance the interests of working families in this country,” said Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser.