The Biden presidency began with a flurry of activity, with the new President signing 17 executive orders, memos and directives on his first (half) day in office, including on climate change, the pandemic, immigration and equality.
Shortly after being sworn in as President around noon on Wednesday, Joe Biden began dismantling — with urgency — significant parts of the legacy of his predecessor Donald Trump, including by officially bringing America back into the Paris Climate Accord. Mr. Biden conveyed his intent to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres via a letter. Consequently, the U.S. would be back in the agreement on February 19, according to Mr. Guterres’s spokesperson.
Mr. Biden also stopped the U.S.’s withdrawal from the World Health Organisation (WHO). In a letter to Mr. Guterres, he highlighted the ‘crucial’ role the organisation plays in combating COVID-19 and other health challenges.
“The United States will continue to be a full participant and a global leader in confronting such threats and advancing global health and health security,” the letter read.
Mr. Biden’s first executive order, however, was about COVID-19, and mandated the wearing of face-masks on federal government property and encouraged people to wear masks for 100 days. More than 4,00,000 Americans have died due to the virus. He also re-established an Obama-era National Security Council unit that deals with world health security and biodefence.
“With the state of the nation today there’s no time to waste. We’re going to get to work immediately,” he told reporters in the Oval Office.
As part of Wednesday’s half-day of work, Mr. Biden repealed Mr. Trump’s near-ban on travel to the U.S. from 13 Muslim-majority countries (colloquially known as the “Muslim ban”). The policy has been in place since January 2017 and had survived challenges in the U.S. Supreme Court. He also signed a memo asking the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to “preserve and fortify” the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a programme allowing individuals brought illegally to the U.S. as children, reprieve from deportation. The DHS announced a 100-day pause on all deportations on Wednesday.
Mr. Biden also stopped the construction of the wall with Mexico — a pet project of Mr. Trump which had included the redirection of some $10 billion from Defence accounts. The new President ordered a review of funds diverted to building the wall.
With regard to domestic climate policy, Mr. Biden cancelled the permit for Keystone XL, an almost 1,931-km pipeline that brings crude into the U.S. from Canada. The permit was first denied in 2015 by former President Barack Obama and granted in 2017 by Mr. Trump. He also issued a moratorium on oil and natural gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and reversed a Trump administration rollback of Obama-era vehicle emission rules.
Mr. Biden also dismantled Mr. Trump’s “1776 Commission” that was set up to promote “patriotic education” to children but has been criticised for whitewashing the country’s history of racism. He also signed an order enforcing prohibitions on the federal government from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, reversing some Trump-era actions.
At the virtual swearing in of his staff, he stressed the need for humility as a core value in his White House. He told members of his new team that if he ever heard them treating their colleagues with disrespect, he would fire them “on the spot… no ifs and or buts”.
“Everybody…everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity. That’s been missing in a big way the last four years.”
Mr. Biden, who did not have his predecessor at the inauguration, did receive a letter from him, as is the custom.
“The President [Mr. Trump] wrote a very generous letter,” Mr. Biden said. He told reporters that he did not want to discuss the contents until he had spoken with Mr. Trump.
Mr. Biden will release a national strategy for tacking COVID-19 on Thursday, the White House said. This will include another 10 executive orders and directives, to expand testing, give out vaccines, address safety issues with re-opening schools and businesses and to set up a task force to address the disproportionate coronavirus disease-burden faced by minority communities. He has set a target of the public receiving 100 million vaccination shots by the end of his first 100 days in office.