President Joe Biden is moving swiftly to dismantle Donald Trump’s legacy on his first day in office, signing a series of executive actions that reverse course on immigration, climate change, racial equity and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
‘I will fire you on the spot’: President Joe Biden warned White House staff that disrespect would not be tolerated pic.twitter.com/dl3B29gYqa— Reuters (@Reuters) January 21, 2021
The new president signed the orders just hours after taking the oath of office at the Capitol. Biden ordered a halt to the construction of Trump’s US-Mexico border wall, ended the ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries, declared his intent to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organisation and revoked the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The 15 executive actions, and two directives, amount to an attempt to rewind the last four years of federal policies with striking speed. “There’s no time to start like today,” Biden said in his first comments to reporters as president.
Here are the details of the major policy changes brought in by Biden on the first day.
Biden wore a mask as he signed the orders in the Oval Office — a marked departure from Trump, who rarely wore a face covering in public and never during events in the Oval Office. But virus precautions are now required in the building.
Among the executive actions signed Wednesday was one requiring masks and physical distancing on federal property and by federal employees. 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, 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.
With the world
The decision to return to the World Health Organisation is another major step taken by Biden on the day of his inauguration.
In a letter to UN Director-General Antonio Guterres about the US’ decision to re-join the World Health Organisation, Biden said: “This letter constitutes a retraction by the Government of the United States of the letter dated July 6, 2020, notifying you that the Government of the United States intended to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO), effective July 6, 2021. The United States intends to remain a member of the World Health Organization.”
Similarly important is the order to end Muslim travel ban, which blocked travel to the US from several predominantly Muslim and African countries.
Biden directed the State Department to restart visa processing for individuals from the affected countries and to develop ways to address the harm caused to those who were prevented from coming to the United States because of the ban.
Implemented in 2017 during Trump’s first week in office, the Muslim Ban restricts citizens from 12 countries — Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan, Tanzania and North Korea.
He targeted Trump’s environmental record, calling for a review of all regulations and executive actions that are deemed damaging to the environment or public health.
Environmental groups applauded Biden’s move to return to the Paris Agreement and revoke the permit for construction of Keystone XL oil pipeline.
In one of his first acts, Biden issued an executive order to bring the US back into the global treaty committing nearly 200 countries to halt rising temperatures quickly enough to avoid disastrous climate change.
Washington formally left the Paris accord last year but its role as a heavyweight in global climate negotiations had already stalled with the 2016 election of President Donald Trump.
The 2,735-kilometre Keystone XL oil pipeline was planned to carry roughly 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.
Critics of the Alberta oil sands say the growing operations increase greenhouse gas emissions and threaten Alberta’s rivers and forests.
“Killing the Keystone XL pipeline once and for all is a clear indication that climate action is a priority for the White House,” said Dale Marshall, national climate program manager for Canada’s Environmental Defence.
Another order instructs federal agencies to prioritise racial equity and review policies that reinforce systemic racism. Biden revoked two Trump orders related to the 2020 census. The first attempted to discern the citizenship status of every US resident, and the second sought to exclude people in the US illegally from the numbers used for apportioning congressional seats among the states.
He also ordered federal employees to take an ethics pledge that commits them to upholding the independence of the Justice Department.
The president also revoked the just-issued report of Trump’s “1776 Commission” that promotes “patriotic education.”
Support to immigrants
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 Biden sent to Congress on Wednesday that would provide an eight-year path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people living in the US without legal status.
Biden took other steps to try to signal his priorities and set the tone in his White House. As he swore in dozens of political appointees in a virtual ceremony, he declared he expected “honesty and decency” from all that worked for his administration and would fire anyone who shows disrespect to others “on the spot.”
“Everyone is entitled to human decency and dignity,” Biden said. “That’s been missing in a big way for the last four years.”