President Joe Biden signed a flurry of 17 executive orders and actions during his first day in office. Eleven out of those 17 were direct reversals of policies instituted by his immediate predecessor.
Let’s begin with the rebukes of former president Donald Trump:
- Biden signed an instrument that will place the United States back on track to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change. The process will take 30 days after the instrument is deposited with the United Nations in Manhattan.
- Biden revoked a cross-border permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, a pet project of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which aimed to carry hydrocarbons in the form of tar sands from Alberta, Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. This order also directs all U.S. administrative agencies to pause and review all executive branch decisions “that were harmful to public health, damaging to the environment, unsupported by the best available science, or otherwise not in the national interest.”
- Biden dissolved the widely criticized 1776 Commission, a panel designed to counter a recent educational movement toward historical revisionism such as the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project. Trump’s response to schoolchildren being taught more truthful views about subjects such as slavery, genocide and the feminist struggle was to frame such education as an attack on American values rather than as correctives to false narratives.
- Biden dismissed the long-and-winding Trump administration effort to keep undocumented immigrants from being counted during upcoming the congressional re-apportionment process, better known as redistricting. That possibility was still technically on the table until Biden’s order was issued; an earlier effort to have undocumented immigrants not counted whatsoever during the U.S. Census was previously defeated by the lower courts. The Supreme Court appeared inclined to rule Trump’s memo illegal, but a majority of justices found the lawsuit challenging its constitutionality premature. With Biden’s order, that issue is now moot.
- Biden put the kibosh on a Trump administration effort to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization (WHO), the international body considered the gold standard on matters of public health and vaccine development. The Trump administration announced its intention to exit the global organization during the height of the first wave of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and swiftly stopped paying dues. Biden’s order will name Dr. Anthony Fauci as leader of the U.S.’s WHO delegation.
- Biden revoked the so-called “travel ban,” the watered down version of the proposal that then-candidate Trump and his GOP allies nakedly referred to as a “Muslim ban.” That was before the Trump White House lawyers revised it multiple times—first targeting predominantly Muslim nations, then adding African nations—to pass it through Supreme Court review, which it narrowly did. Biden’s revocation, announcing it “ends discriminatory bans,” also says the new administration aims to “restore fairness and remedy the harms caused by the bans, especially for individuals stuck in the waiver process and those who had immigrant visas denied.”
- Biden put an end to Trump’s signature domestic policy agenda item, at least to a certain extent. The border wall, construction of which was never funded to the degree necessary for Trump’s policy dreams to come to fruition, is now a dead letter, except for the parts already built. Biden has promised not to build additional walls on the U.S.-Mexico border but said he has no plans to tear down the segments already in place.
- Biden rolled back Trump administration policies that made all undocumented immigrants fair game for deportation proceedings. Trump previously issued an executive order which effectively eliminated enforcement priorities, giving agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) carte blanche to detain and attempt to deport immigrants. Biden’s order promises a return to Obama-era enforcement priorities. But that’s likely small solace to immigrant communities as the Obama administration regularly deported immigrants at a much higher rate than Trump.
- Biden restored the directorate for global health security and biodefense at the National Security Council, an assemblage of experts which Trump previously axed in the months leading up to the first case of COVID-19, a decision that was all-but instantly pilloried in hindsight. This order also creates the position of COVID-19 Response Coordinator and appoints former investment executive Jeffrey Zients as the inaugural head of that executive branch office. Zients will directly report to the president on an array of issues concerning the U.S. response to the pandemic.
- Biden also, in one of the few actions for which the full text was available at press time, ordered a holistic review of administrative agency actions, putting a wholesale “freeze” on recently enacted and pending rules issued by the outgoing administration. This order also directs the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to be “authorized to establish a process to review pending collections of information” under existing federal law. While interpreted by some as modernizing the agency review process, it refers to a longstanding federal law which has, since it was passed decades ago, failed to deliver long-ago-promised progress.
- Biden signed an order that prevents workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by putting the administration firmly in line with the landmark LGBTQ civil rights decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which rescinds Trump-era guidelines that purported to reject such non-discrimination provisions. “This action by the Biden administration recognizes what the Supreme Court held last June and what we’ve long known: LGBTQ people are protected by our civil rights laws,” James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project said in a statement.
Other actions and orders either have little to do with Trump, mark a symbolic departure from his policies, or set ambitious goals for inside a Biden White House:
- Biden extended a program that temporarily offers Liberian nationals deportation protections and extends work authorizations under the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program until the end of June. The country’s decades-long civil war led to a huge influx of immigrants seeking respite from the violence and chaos in the United States. And even though that war is long over, the country has never really recovered. While Trump publicly complained about the DED program, he never actually went through with his threat to rescind it.
- Biden reaffirmed support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. While this might seem like a reversal at first blush, it amounts to a commitment to follow a law passed under the Obama administration and affirmed by every level of the U.S. judiciary, despite every effort by Trump to flout or kill it. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Trump’s efforts to roll back those deportation protections for children of immigrants, the Department of Homeland Security’s former Acting Secretary Chad Wolf tried to suspend the DACA program by fiat. In December, a federal judge ruled that Wolf’s memo was invalid because the Acting Secretary was unlawfully appointed, effectively restoring a program that has advanced the ambitions of some 700,000 Dreamers.
- Biden previously promised a national mask mandate but quickly backtracked from that position. As Law&Crime previously reported, there is no legal authority for such a mandate anyway. Instead, Biden signed an order mandating the wearing of masks on all federal property and by all federal employees. This order also has language that implores and challenges all Americans to wear a mask for 100 days, a sea change in tone and symbolism from his predecessor’s approach to combating the pandemic, if one with no coercive legal weight outside federal employment and property.
- Biden addressed ethics in government by requiring all executive branch appointees to sign an ethics pledge in which they promise not to act in their personal interest. The order brings back Obama-era ethics policies and places them on steroids. Returning is a ban on accepting gifts from lobbyists and a prohibition that bars political appointees from lobbying on matters related to their prior government work for two years and vice versa. Foreign agents are also barred from joining the administration, and specific language addresses the “independence of the Department of Justice.”
- Biden continued one of Trump’s few highly-lauded policies: he extended the nationwide federal eviction and foreclosure moratorium for individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic through the end of March 2021.
Finally, there is an executive order explicitly continuing the work of Biden’s predecessor.
- Biden continued Trump’s widely-praised pause on the collection of student loan and accumulation of interest on that debt principal through the end of September 2021—another pandemic-related executive action.
Biden is expected to issue multiple executive orders and actions during his first week in office.
[Image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]
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