President Joe Biden moved quickly to wind up Donald Trump’s legacy on his first day in office and signed a series of executive measures reversing the course on immigration, climate change, racial similarity and the management of the coronavirus pandemic.
The new president signed the orders just hours after taking the oath of office at the Capitol and swerved from his inaugurated ceremony to adopt his agenda. With a pen stroke, Biden ordered the halting of the US-Mexico border wall, ended the ban on travel from certain Muslim-majority countries, declared its intention to rejoin the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization, and revoked the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, assistants said.
The 15 executive measures and two directives represent an attempt to rewind the last four years of federal policy with striking speed. Only two presidents recently signed executive action on the first day of office – and each signed only one. But Biden, in the face of the debilitating coronavirus pandemic, a damaged economy and a fragmented electorate, is meant to show a sense of urgency and competence that he claims has been lacking under his Republican predecessor.
“There is no time to start like today,” Biden said in his initial comments to journalists as president.
Biden wore a mask when he signed the orders in the Oval Office – a marked departure from Trump, who rarely had face protection in public and never during events in the Oval Office. But preventive measures against viruses are now required in the building. Among the executive measures signed Wednesday was one that required masks and physical distancing of federal property and of federal employees. Biden’s order also extended the freeze on federal release to help those struggling with the economic downturn in the pandemic, created a new federal office to coordinate a national response to the virus and restored the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health and Defense, an office its predecessor had closed.
The measures reflected the new president’s highest political priority – to address a weakening pandemic. In his introductory speech, Biden paused for what he called his first act as president – a moment of silent prayer for the victims of the country’s worst public health crisis in more than a century.
He explained that he would “push forward with speed and urgency” in the coming weeks. “Because we have a lot to do this winter with dangers and significant opportunities – a lot to repair, a lot to restore, a lot to heal, a lot to build and a lot to gain,” he said in the speech.
But Biden’s flash of executive action went beyond the pandemic. He addressed Trump’s environmental record and called for a review of all ordinances and executive measures considered harmful to the environment or public health, assistants said Tuesday as they previewed the movements.
Another order instructs federal authorities to prioritize racial equality and review policies that reinforce systemic racism. Biden revoked two Trump orders related to the 2020 census. The first sought to discriminate against the citizenship of every U.S. citizen, and the second sought to illegally exclude people in the United States from the numbers used to allocate congressional seats among states. ”
He also ordered federal employees to make an ethical commitment to uphold the independence of the Department of Justice.
The president also recalled the just-issued report from Trump’s “1776 commission” promoting “patriotic education.”
These moves and others will be followed by dozens more over the next ten days, the president’s aides said, as Biden looks set to redirect the country without having to go through a Senate that Democrats control by the narrowest margin and will soon turn to the National Assembly. Trump, who is accused by the House of having encouraged the uprising at the Capitol.
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Republicans signaled that Biden will face strong opposition to certain parts of his agenda.
One of his orders aims to strengthen the deferred action on childhood arrivals, known as the DACA, a signature effort by the Obama administration that provided hundreds of thousands of young immigrants with protection against deportation and a path to citizenship. It is part of a broader immigration plan that Biden sent to Congress on Wednesday that would provide an eight-year path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people living in the United States without legal status.
The plan would lead to “a permanent cycle of illegal immigration and amnesty that would harm hard-working Americans and millions of legal immigrants who worked their way through the legal immigration process,” said Chris Hartline, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Even the familiar criticism seemed to return to normal as Biden has promised after years of disruptive and overheated politics. According to tradition, Biden began his day by attending church with both Democratic and Republican congressional leaders. His press secretary, Jen Psaki, held an information meeting for journalists, a practice that the Trump White House had abandoned during the past two months of the presidency. Psaki said she intended to restore regular reviews as part of the White House’s commitment to transparency.
EM Tweet – Psaki first press conference
Set up for the first press briefing of the Biden-Harris administration with press secretary Jen Psaki. https://t.co/psa19eCLQa
White House (@WhiteHouse) January 20, 2021
“I have deep respect for the role of a free and independent press in our democracy and for the role you all play,” she said.
Biden took other steps to try to signal his priorities and set the tone in his white house. When he swore in dozens of political nominees at a virtual ceremony, he declared that he expected “honesty and decency” from everything that worked for his administration and would fire anyone who showed disrespect for others “on the spot”.
“Everyone has the right to human decency and dignity,” Biden said. “It has been largely lacking for the past four years.”