On January 20th when the Biden administration was officially sworn in, the 46th president wasted no time getting to work. Within his first three days in office Joe Biden took 30 executive actions, many of which undoing the work of Donald Trump, and has made many more since. Executive orders are the fastest way to make decisions that have a nation-wide impact as they do not need congressional approval, so this early into the presidency they are the best indicator of what Biden has accomplished. Let’s take a look at the highlights of the executive actions he’s signed off on regarding climate change, pandemic response, immigration, and civil rights.
Combating Climate Change
The Biden administration has made it clear they want to take a rigorous approach to fighting climate change. So far, the president assembled a team of climate experts. Gina McCarthy—who led the Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration, has been appointed as the White House National Climate Advisor. Biden has also placed policy experts in the State Department, National Security Council, Treasury Department, Transportation Department, and the office of Vice President Kamala Harris. Independently, however, he has reversed some of the major orders Trump made that undermined goals to manage climate change. Here is what he accomplished through those executive orders:
- Rejoin Paris Climate Agreement – America played a big role in the global agreement providing a framework to manage the climate crisis, but Trump left the accord after deeming climate change a hoax. Under his executive order targeting climate issues, Biden brings America back into the deal.
- Revoke Keystone XL Pipeline permit – The extension of the Keystone Pipeline would connect the existing pipeline, starting in Alberta, to the Gulf of Mexico. It was originally declined by Obama when first offered because of its harmful climate implications, but approved by Trump in March 2019. Biden revokes the permit on his first day in office.
- Undo other Trump policies – The Trump administration prioritized gas and oil industries at the expense of the environment, partly through attempts to weaken energy efficiency standards. Biden works toward undoing these Trump policies in this climate order.
COVID Response and Relief
On his first day as president, Biden mandated mask-wearing on federal property. While this action alone won’t make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things when it comes to case numbers, the mandate symbolizes how the Biden administration will treat Covid-19 differently than the Trump administration did. His pandemic plan is the reason many voters leaned toward him, and he’s been thorough with his 198 page Covid-19 strategy and more than 10 executive orders and other directives. These are the highlights from the executive actions addressing Covid-19:
- Introduce response coordinators – This will be a group of people responsible for establishing proper distribution of PPE, tests, and vaccines, and ensuring the federal government reduces racial disparities.
- Introduce task force – The job of the task force is to look into how communities of colour and other marginalized groups are being disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and how resources can be better allocated to them.
- Increase aid to the homeless – Biden orders the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fully reimburse cities for housing the homeless. This will encourage them to provide the housing and bring those in need to a position where they will be less vulnerable to the virus.
- Expand state supports – Biden instructs federal agencies to reimburse states for Covid-19 prevention related causes and therefore encourages states to take appropriate safety measures.
- Economic relief – This order directs federal agencies to use data to expand access to federal programs that provide pandemic assistance.
Progressive Immigration Approach
In stark contrast to Trump—who famously promised the construction of a wall at the US-Mexico border since the beginning of his campaign, Biden’s immigration views are perhaps the most progressive the country has seen. His first steps were to undo the executive actions Trump made. This is what he accomplished:
- Include undocumented immigrants in the US census – This is a reversal of a Trump order which stated undocumented individuals were not to be counted in the census.
- Reverse travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries – Biden undoes the Trump administration’s restriction of US entry for passport holders from several Muslim countries.
- End Wall Construction – A stop is put to the construction and funds to the wall at the southern US border that was meant to keep undocumented immigrants from crossing the over.
The US Citizenship Act of 2021, a bill Biden sent to congress, is where the most change will occur. The bill proposes an eight-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and eases family-based restrictions on immigration to make it easier for families to unite. He also aims to provide support to distressed economies to prevent the need to flee to America due to economic stress, rather than increasing border enforcement. Given the progressive nature of the bill, however, it may be difficult to pass through congress. 60 votes are required for the bill to be considered, 10 of which need to be republican.
Addressing Civil Rights
After an administration that was so harmful and ignorant to the rights of BIPOC communities and other marginalized groups, much change has been in demand for the recognition of basic civil rights. Biden has done the bare minimum which Trump failed to meet by acknowledging these communities in his policies and reversing discriminatory trump orders. Here is what came from those executive actions:
- LGBTQ+ people are protected from sex discrimination – This order enforces the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity under the term sex descrimination, which notably ensures transgender individuals can play on the team that matches their gender identity without experiencing discrimination.
- Reverse transgender military ban – Trump announced he was banning transgender people from serving in the millitary in 2017, Biden reversed his decision.
- Condemn xenophobia – The Covid-19 pandemic brought an uproar of violence to Asian Americans, and this memorandum acknowledges the role the US government played in this and directs agencies to avoid communicating using Anti-Asian phrasing.
- End use of private prisons for federal inmates – This order prevents the renewal of contracts with private prisons who profit from a racist criminal justice system.
- Federal Funding for Reproductive Health Programs – Biden reverses the ban of federal funds on programs that provide abortion services and counseling.
Executive orders are efficient at making quick decisions and sending a message. Through these actions, we can get a good idea of how the Biden administration wants to run America. That being said, there are much more significant changes to come through the passing of legislation and bigger, more long-term projects. Be sure to follow as Biden’s presidency unfolds to see if he continues the impact he made with this monumental flurry of executive orders.