Biden pays tribute to Americans lost to COVID-19 before inauguration
On the night before his inauguration, President-elect Joe Biden mourns the 400,000 Americans that have died to COVID-19.
staff video, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – Throughout the presidential campaign, Joe Biden vowed to use executive authority to immediately undo President Donald Trump’s policies on the environment, immigration and other areas that dismayed Democrats and international allies.
That rollback begins Wednesday after Biden is sworn in as the 46th president. In a flurry of orders billed as “historic action on Day One,” Biden plans to sign 15 executive orders and other directives in the evening, followed by several more over the next 10 days.
Biden will end construction of Trump’s signature wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the president-elect’s transition team, by proclaiming the “immediate termination” of the national emergency declaration Trump used to fund it. He will also take action to end Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization, which Trump abandoned in July.
Biden also on Wednesday will rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, a treaty the U.S. formally exited in November after Trump withdrew in 2017, and take executive action to reverse Trump’s ban on travel from predominantly Muslim countries.
The swiftness is meant to demonstrate urgency to turn the page on a divisive four years under the Trump administration, experts said. Most of the actions hit what the Biden team calls “four overlapping and compounding crises” – the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting economic damage, climate change and lagging racial equity
“He’s trying to show the American people, and the world more generally, that America is back to where it was before the Trump administration,” said Todd Belt, professor and political management program director at George Washington University. By signing so many orders so soon, Biden will deliver a “repudiation of Trump’s approach to governance,” Belt said.
Keystone pipeline, racial equity, 1776 Commission, immigration and more
Also on his first day in office, Biden will cancel the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline to move oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, according to White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy, rescinding Trump’s approval of a project long criticized by environmentalists.
He will issue a mask mandate on federal property as part of his efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and extend the pause on student loan payments and nationwide restrictions on evictions and disclosures.
The president is also expected to sign an order launching a government-wide initiative directing every federal agency to review its state of racial equity and deliver an action plan within 200 days to address any disparities in policies and programs, according to Susan Rice, Biden’s domestic policy chief.
The Biden administration will create a new equitable data working group to make sure federal data reflects the country’s diverse make-up and direct the Office of Management and Budget to allocate more federal resources to underserved communities.
“Delivering on racial justice will require that the administration takes a comprehensive approach to embed equity in every aspect of our policymaking and decision-making,” Rice said.
Other Day One executive orders include:
- Rescinding Trump’s 1776 Commission, a panel Trump established as a response to the New York Times’ 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning collection that focused on America’s history with slavery.
- Revoking Trump’s plan to exclude non-citizens from the census.
- Prohibiting workplace discrimination in the federal government based on sexual orientation and gender identity and directing federal agencies to ensure protections for LGBTQ people are included in anti-discrimination statutes.
- Creating a COVID-19 response coordinator who will report directly to the president
- Revoking Trump’s 2017 Interior Enforcement Executive Order, which broadened the categories of undocumented immigrants subject for removal, restarted the Secure Communities program and supported the federal 287(g) deportation program.
More action planned over next 10 days
Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s incoming White House communication director, called the executive orders “decisive steps to roll back some of the most egregious moves of the Trump administration” in an interview Sunday on ABC’s “This Week. “And he’s going to take steps to move us forward,” she added.
More orders will come Thursday, Biden’s first full day in office, when he signs several executive actions related to the COVID-19 crisis and reopening schools and businesses, Biden’s Chief of Staff Klain said in a memo outlining the first 10 days of the administration. That includes expanded testing, protections for workers and establishing public health standards.
Friday, Biden will direct his incoming Cabinet to “take immediate action to deliver economic relief” to working families struggling financially as a result of the pandemic, the memo said.
Other future orders confirmed by Biden’s team include revoking the ban on military service by transgender Americans and reversing the “Mexico City policy,” which blocks federal funding for non-governmental organizations that provide abortion services abroad.
Next week, Biden will sign orders to carry out his “Buy American” pledge, “advance equity and support communities of color and other underserved communities” and implement criminal justice changes.
He will sign additional executive actions related to climate change, expanding access to health care – particularly for low-income women and women of color – and on immigration and border policies, including the process of reuniting families separated at the U.S.-Mexican border, according to Klain.
“Of course, these actions are just the start of our work,” Klain said. “But by Feb. 1st, America will be moving in the right direction on all four of these challenges – and more – thanks to President-elect Joe Biden’s leadership.”
Just one piece of the Biden agenda
The Biden team acknowledged that congressional action will be required to achieve much of Biden’s early agenda. Topping that list is passage of a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, dubbed the American Rescue Plan, that Biden introduced last week.
Biden promised to introduce an immigration bill “immediately” upon taking office. It will include an eight-year pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the U.S. without legal status, an expansion of refugee admissions and the use of new technology to patrol the border.
“Over the first week and a half, he’s going to do everything he can, within his power, to move us forward,” Bedingfield said. “But that’s only one piece of the agenda. The second piece of the agenda will be working with Congress.”
Biden begins his presidency seeking to unify a deeply divided nation, yet taking unilateral action. Executive orders became more common under the Obama and Trump presidencies, Belt said, as their administrations recognized it’s easier to govern through executive power than legislation that needs congressional approval.
Trump issued eight executive orders by Feb. 3, 2017, and 210 over his four-year term. Obama had nine during the same time frame after inauguration and 276 over eight years. But the last four presidents only took two day-one executive actions combined, according to the Biden team.
Other environmental orders in addition to Paris Agreement
Perhaps no other early action will deliver a bigger statement symbolically than rejoining the Paris Agreement, which will show the world the United States is ready to work multilaterally again, a departure from the isolationist tendencies of Trump, experts said.
The historic deal signed by Obama in 2015 includes almost 200 nations in agreement to combat climate change. Although mostly nonbinding, the Paris Agreement requires countries to set voluntary targets for reducing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Nations have to accurately report on their efforts. Rejoining would mean the United States would again provide funding to developing countries for its climate change efforts.
“It’s a very strong signal to the world that President Biden is sharply reversing the Trump policies and rejoining the national effort to fight climate change,” said Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “It will be warmly received by the rest of the world and put the U.S. back in a position of leadership.”
The president also plans to sign a broad executive order to reverse more than 100 Trump administration environmental policies and direct all agencies to review federal regulations and executive actions from the last four years to determine whether they were harmful to public health, damaging to the environment or unsupported by science, McCarthy said.
Within that order, Biden will direct the Department of Interior to restore protections for national monuments including Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears, which Trump sought to open to companies for mining and energy drilling, as well as place a temporary moratorium on all oil and natural gas leasing activities in the Arctic National Wildlife.
The order also re-establishes the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases to examine whether greenhouse gas emissions and climate risks in governmental activities are fully accounted for.
“The Paris climate agreement itself is not particularly binding. It’s more what it symbolizes. But Biden is going to obviously be taking lot of other measures to carry out the promises of Paris,” Gerrard said.
Travel ban a ‘stain on nation,’ Biden team says
Trump’s travel ban, ordered during his first week in office but reworked after legal challenges, was struck down multiple times in lower courts for being unconstitutional but was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2018. Trump campaigned in 2016 on banning Muslims from entering the USA.
Trump’s travel ban suspended the issuance of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas to applicants from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea and Venezuela. Last year, the Trump administration added six countries by suspending overseas visas for nationals of Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and Nigeria and adding restrictions on Sudanese and Tanzanian nationals.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan called the Muslim ban “nothing less than a stain on our nation.”
“It was rooted in xenophobia and religious animus and President-elect Biden has been clear that we will not turn our back on our values with discriminatory bans on entry to the United States,” he said.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called it “very welcome news” to see Biden rescind “what was a totally, we believe, totally unconstitutional, un-American policy barring people based on their faith.”
He said CAIR hopes Biden will soon repeal other Trump policies on immigration and refugees. That includes prohibiting the separation of parents from children at the southern border and removing caps on refugees and asylum seekers.
“The actions taken on Day One are an indication of how they’re viewed as being important – issues that need to be introduced immediately,” Hooper said. “It’s good the Muslim ban is one of those issues.”
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.