President Joe Biden unleashed a full-scale assault on his predecessor's legacy, acting hours after taking the oath of office to sweep aside former President Donald Trump's pandemic response, reverse his environmental agenda, tear down his anti-immigration policies, bolster the sluggish economic recovery and restore federal efforts aimed at promoting diversity.
Moving with an urgency not seen from any other modern president, Biden signed 17 executive orders, memorandums and proclamations from the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon. Among the steps the president took were orders to rejoin the Paris climate accord and end Trump’s travel ban on predominantly Muslim and African countries.
Individually, the actions are targeted at what the president views as specific, egregious abuses by Trump during four tumultuous years. Collectively, Biden’s assertive use of executive authority was intended to be a hefty and visible down payment on one of his primary goals: to, as his top advisers described it, “reverse the gravest damages” done to the country by Trump.
In his remarks, Biden stressed unity of purpose, urging Americans to “see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors,” and pleaded with citizens and leaders to “join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature.”
But his first actions in office were aimed not at compromise and cooperation with his adversaries but instead suggested a determination to quickly erase much of the Trump agenda. They fell within four broad categories that his aides described as the “converging crises” he inherited at noon Wednesday: the pandemic, economic struggles, immigration and diversity issues, and the environment and climate change.
In some cases, Biden’s actions unilaterally and immediately reversed policies and procedures that Trump had put in place. In other instances, limits on his authority require the president to direct others in his administration to act or even to begin what could be a long process to shift the federal government in a new direction.
“A new day,” Jeff Zients, coordinator of Biden’s coronavirus response, said Tuesday. “A new, different approach to managing the country’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.”
One of Biden’s first acts was to sign an executive order making Zients the government’s official COVID-19 response coordinator, reporting to the president. The order also restored the directorate for global health security and biodefense at the National Security Council, a group that Trump had disbanded.
In a second broad executive order, Biden rolled back harmful regulatory reversals made by the previous administration to protect public health and the environment.
This order protects nation's treasures by reviewing the boundaries for several national monuments, places a temporary moratorium on all oil and natural gas leasing in the Arctic national wildlife refuge and reestablishes the interagency working group on the social cost of green house gases.
“He also launched a whole of government effort to advance racial equity and root out systemic racism from federal programs and institutions. He directed the Secretary of Homeland Security in consultation with the Attorney General to take all appropriate actions to preserve and fortify DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which provides temporary relief from deportation to dreamers, young people who were brought to this country as children,” Psaki said.
“The president also put an end to the Muslim ban, a policy rooted in religious animus and xenophobia.
Mr. Biden wore a mask as he signed the orders in the Oval Office — a marked departure from Mr. Trump, who rarely wore a face covering in public and never during events in the Oval Office. But mask wearing is now required in the building. Among the executive actions signed on Wednesday was one putting in place a mask mandate on federal property.
Mr. Biden’s order also extended the federal eviction freeze to aid those struggling from the pandemic economic fallout, created a new federal office to coordinate a national response to the virus and restored the White House’s National Security Council directorate for global health security and defense, an office his predecessor had closed.
The actions reflected the new President’s top policy priority — getting a handle on a debilitating pandemic. In his inaugural address, Mr. Biden paused for what he called his first act as President — a moment of a silent prayer for the victims of the nation’s worst public health crisis in more than a century.
He declared that he would “press forward with speed and urgency” in coming weeks. “For we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities — much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build and much to gain,” he said in the speech.
But Mr. Biden’s blitz of executive actions went beyond the pandemic. He targeted Mr. Trump’s environmental record, calling for a review of all regulations and executive actions that are deemed damaging to the environment or public health, aides said on Tuesday as they previewed the moves. Another order instructs federal agencies to prioritise racial equity and review policies that reinforce systemic racism. Mr. Biden also revoked a Trump order that sought to exclude non-citizens from the census and ordered federal employees to take an ethics pledge that commits them to upholding the independence of the Justice Department.
Aides said he also revoked the just-issued report of Mr. Trump’s “1776 Commission” that promotes “patriotic education.”
Those moves and others will be followed by dozens more in the next 10 days, the President’s aides said, as Mr. Biden looks to redirect the country without having to go through a Senate that Democrats control by the narrowest margin and will soon turn to Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial.
Republicans signalled that Mr. Biden will face fierce opposition on some parts of his agenda.
One of his orders seeks to fortify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, a signature effort of the Obama administration that provided hundreds of thousands of young immigrants protection from deportation and a pathway to citizenship. That’s part of a broader immigration plan that would provide an eight-year path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status.
The plan would lead to “a permanent cycle of illegal immigration and amnesty that would hurt hard-working Americans and the millions of legal immigrants working their way through the legal immigration process,” said Chris Hartline, a spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Even that familiar criticism seemed a return to the normalcy Mr. Biden has promised after years of disruptive and overheated politics. Mr. Biden’s first day in the White House was a celebration of Washington traditions. He attended church with both Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress.
In another effort to signal a return to pre-Trump times, Jen Psaki, the new White House press secretary, said she would hold a news briefing late on Wednesday in a symbol of the administration’s commitment to transparency. Mr. Trump’s White House had all but abandoned the practice of briefing reporters daily.
Mr. Biden’s action notably did not include immediate steps to rejoin the Iran nuclear accord, which Mr. Trump abandoned and Mr. Biden has pledged to reimplement. Ms. Psaki noted that more actions were coming, including plans to revoke the Pentagon’s ban on military service by transgender Americans as well as the so-called Mexico City policy, which bans U.S. funding for international organizations that perform or refer women for abortion services.