US president Joe Biden spent his first day in office walking back his Republican predecessor’s legacy and establishing a new order, through a flurry of executive actions.
Within hours of his inauguration on Wednesday, the new president set himself to work on reversing Donald Trump’s policies, telling reporters there was “no time to waste” in issuing the 17 executive orders, memorandums and directives.
“Some of the executive actions I’m going to be signing today are going to help change the course of the Covid crisis, we’re going to combat climate change in a way that we haven’t done so far and advance racial equity and support other underserved communities,” he said in the Oval Office.
“These are just all starting points.”
Here are seven of Biden’s executive orders you should know about.
Biden is reentering the US into the 2016 Paris Agreement, which his climate-change-denying predecessor pulled the country out of in 2017. His executive order means the US will once again become a formal party to the global negotiations in 30 days.
The move ends the US’s brief but symbolic exit from the global pact to slash planet-heating emissions that virtually every nation in the world has joined. It also lays the groundwork for the new administration’s climate action: among his other actions on Wednesday included orders to pull permits for the 1,200-mile Keystone XL oil pipeline and to reestablish the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases.
The move was welcomed worldwide by climate change leaders and campaigners, who said they wanted to see an ambitious US commitment to cut emissions this decade and a diplomatic push to encourage other countries to do the same.
2. Halting construction of the US-Mexico border wall
Among the half a dozen executive orders to reserve the previous administration’s hardline immigration policies, Biden is ending all plans for the construction of the border wall along Mexico – one of Trump’s biggest and most expensive campaign promises.
The new administration is also ending Trump’s policy of prioritising the deportation of all undocumented immigrants in the US and the strict enforcement of that policy through the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Biden is ordering his cabinet to ensure that the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy will stay put, which protects people who arrived in the US as children from being deported.
In addition, Biden has sent an immigration bill to Congress that proposes opening a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants living in the US unlawfully.
3. Undoing the “Muslim ban”
Biden is axing the so-called “Muslim ban” or “travel ban”, one of Trump’s earliest policies from January 2017 that banned foreign nationals from 13 Muslim-majority and African countries from entry into the US.
4. Stopping the withdrawal from the WHO
Biden is halting the US withdrawal from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which Trump was in the middle of doing. The former president had announced those plans in May, baselessly accusing the WHO of inadequately responding to the coronavirus because China has “total control” over the organisation.
The move was welcomed by UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, who said it was “absolutely critical” for a more co-ordinated global response.
5. Rescinding the 1776 Commission
Biden is pulling the plug on Trump’s so-called 1776 Commission, a highly controversial panel he established in response to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the US.
The commission purported to promote a “patriotic education” but was widely panned by historians as presenting a pseudo-historical take on America’s racist past and erasing truths about slavery and the civil rights movement, all in the name of propping up Trump’s own agenda.
6. Workplace protections for LGBTQ people
Biden is banning workplace discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This is a sharp pivot from Trump’s administration, which had pushed the Supreme Court to rule that gay and transgender employees were not covered by “title VII” of the Civil Rights Act 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination.
He is also expected to revoke the ban on military service by transgender Americans and to reverse the so-called “global gag rule” – a policy that blocks US funding for programmes overseas that are linked to abortion.
In a pivot from Trump’s dismissal of the most basic safety measures against coronavirus, Biden is mandating Americans to wear masks while on federal property and asking all Americans to commit to 100 days of mask-wearing.
The move is more symbolic than it is prescriptive – Biden has no such power at state or local level – and signals his continued push for wearing masks as an apolitical and necessary act.
It also sets the tone for a more engaged federal role in curtailing a disease that has so far killed 400,000 Americans – accounting for roughly 20% of global fatalities, a percentage far higher than every other developed country.
Other executive orders
Biden is creating an official Covid-19 response coordinator who will report to the president on vaccines, testing and other responses to the pandemic.
He has also extended the current moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, ensuring protections for Americans at risk of losing their homes during the pandemic, as well as extending the existing pause on student loan payments.
In other immigration policies, Biden is requiring non-citizens to be counted in the US census, a reversal of a policy Trump initiated last summer. And he is extending temporary protection from deportation for about 4,000 Liberians from civil war under the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program until June 30, 2022.
Under the Biden administration, executive branch employees will be required to sign an ethics pledge and vow to “to uphold the independence of the Department of Justice”.
He has also reversed Trump’s regulatory approval process, putting a freeze on regulations until his administration has time to review any that Trump enacted during his last days in office.