Media Production Editor
On the day of his inauguration, President Joe Biden signed his first executive orders, reversing several cornerstone decisions made during the Trump administration. On Jan. 20, the Biden signed 17 executive orders and directives, ten of which focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. His orders will also affect many laws regarding the economy, immigration, the environment, and human rights. In addition to the directives, Biden outlined a plan to accelerate the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and slow the speed of the virus outbreak.
The first executive order signed by the new president established a nationwide mask mandate. The mandate applies to anybody in a federal building or on federal land, as well as any federal workers or contractors. This includes masks becoming a requirement for anybody on any form of public transportation such as buses, planes, and trains. It also requires any international travelers to present a recent negative COVID-19 test before entering the country. Biden’s plan states: “It’s past time to fix America’s COVID-response supply shortage problems for good.” Additionally, Biden started the “100 Days Masking Challenge,” which challenges everybody in the country to wear masks as the vaccines continue to roll out. The plan encourages all business owners, mayors, governors, and local leaders to advocate for public mask wearing in order to reduce the spread of the virus.
Although there are currently no concrete plans for reopening, the Department of Health and Human Services will begin collecting data to assess the risk of allowing students to return to school. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also plans to set up clear guidelines regarding employers implementing new COVID-19 safety measures for their workplace. Additionally, Biden exercised the Defense Production Act — which the Trump administration invoked last year to boost the manufacturing of essential equipment — to encourage private companies to manufacture supplies such as ventilators, personal protective equipment, and other products to assist with combating the pandemic or creating and distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. On Jan. 20, Amazon offered to assist with vaccine distribution via their current large-scale distribution operations and 800,000 U.S. employees to help keep Biden’s promise of 100 million vaccination shots for U.S. citizens by the 100-day mark of his presidency.
Biden also reimplimented a government office from the Obama administration, the Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, which President Obama created after the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Biden appointed Jefferey Zients, the former director of the National Economic Council, as the Response Coordinator. He will report directly to the President regarding updates on vaccine distribution, testing, personal protective equipment, and much more. Biden also rejoined the World Health Organization (WHO), which the Trump administration controversially left in the summer of 2020. Biden hopes to re-establish the United States’ position as a leader in the organization. He subsequently elected Dr. Anthony Fauci to act as the head of the U.S. delegation for the WHO’s executive board; Fauci joined his first meeting on Jan. 21. Furthermore, the Biden administration created a new pandemic testing board that focuses on discovering and implementing fast and effective COVID-19 tests in an attempt to assist the reopening of schools and businesses.
The administration outlined a 1.9 trillion dollar COVID-19 rescue package, which includes 170 billion dollars directed towards education and 20 billion dollars allocated to the national vaccine program. Biden also established a “COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force” to guarantee proper distribution of the vaccines and ensure that tests, masks, and vaccines reach communities of lower economic wealth and communities of color, both of which have suffered disproportionately high death rates compared to other communities. So far, more than 400,000 people in the U.S. have died from the virus, and with new strains of the virus circulating around the country, Biden hopes that these policies will cause the rate of spread to slow down substantially.
In a new wave of financial relief, Biden extended all moratoriums on foreclosures for federally-backed mortgages. In coordination with the Departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, and Veteran Affairs, all mortgage payments will not be due until Mar. 31. On a phone call with reporters, Biden’s head economic advisor Brian Deese stated, “There are more than 11 million mortgages guaranteed by the VA, Department of Agriculture and HUD that would be extended.” In addition to mortgages, Biden is pausing collections of student loans until Sep. 30. The new President also hopes to pass a 10,000 dollar student loan relief plan through Congress, in accordance with his campaign pledge. Some congressional Democrats are pushing for this number to increase to 50,000 dollars instead, or even for student loans to be cancelled altogether.
Biden began to reverse several immigration laws either designed or dismantled by the Trump administration. The DREAM Act and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA), which provided protection from deportation for almost a million undocumented child immigrants, will now have additional support from the Biden administration for DREAMers to achieve permanent legal citizenship in the United States. Trump previously challenged this provision of the act in the courts but DREAMers narrowly won their case after the Supreme Court ruled in their favor.
Furthermore, Biden ended the 2017 travel ban known colloquially as the “Muslim ban.” The ban restricted travel and immigration between the U.S. and many Muslim-majority countries, including Syria, Iran, Iraq, Eritrea, Nigeria, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, Tanzania, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. Trump enacted the highly controversial act in an effort to limit immigration into the United States.
Biden also loosened many of the Trump administration’s regulations regarding immigration enforcement along the southern border with Mexico. Specifically, he reversed the stricter actions and arrest policies outlined for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement by Trump which were used to deport a large number of immigrants from the U.S. The executive order also requires the “immediate termination” of the construction of the wall along the Mexican border. A close review will also examine the legality of the construction and the billions of public dollars redirected from various agencies for its funding.
Biden opted to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement which the U.S. left during the Trump administration in the summer of 2017. In 30 days, the U.S. will officially rejoin the agreement that nearly 200 countries signed during the Obama administration. The agreement focuses on moving away from the use of energy generated by fossil fuels – like gas, coal, and oil – to help slow climate change.Additional federal orders designed to “[revise] vehicle fuel economic and emission standards” and construct groups that regulate the creation of greenhouse gasses emphasize Biden’s efforts to conserve the health of the planet.
Biden also undid a wide array of Trump’s environmental policies, which included rescinding the permit for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a transnational pipeline that would transport oil between and throughout the U.S. and Canada. The Biden administration also revoked permits for land development around national parks and monuments such as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monuments in New England, both of which enjoyed federal protection during the Obama administration.
Biden appointed Susan Rice as his Domestic Policy Review Advisor. As part of her role, Rice will review every federal agency, their programs, and their actions to ensure equity and equality throughout the entire federal government. Each agency is given 200 days to construct a report on equity within their organization, as well as a plan on removing any barriers to opportunities for minority groups. In addition, reinforcements to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 will now require workplace discrimination protection laws to encompass discrimination based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Office of Management and Budget will analyze all of the government’s spending and distribution to ensure that funding is equally distributed to minority communities and other places in need. Additionally, the 1776 Commission, appointed last September, will completely cease operations. The commission, which recently released The 1776 Report, had the primary goal of studying Trump’s worry that the American educational system taught American history too liberally.
To get more accurate and inclusive information on the demographics of the country, the 2020 U.S. Census will be recounted. Biden has taken steps to reverse Trump’s order to exclude undocumented immigrants in the census count. Rice remarked that Trump’s order was an “approach that violates the Constitution and the Census Act and is inconsistent with our nation’s history and our commitment to representative democracy.” Although this process will take some time to complete, Biden wishes that this recount will allow Congress to allocate resources more appropriately.
Biden hopes that his quick actions in office will help to achieve his administration’s primary goal: “to restore and maintain trust in the government.” To bolster this plan, Biden froze all of Trump’s last-minute regulations and actions, so that his administration can thoroughly review any changes that they wish to either proceed with or cancel. Biden will also require all new executive branch appointees to sign an ethics pledge “to uphold the independence of the Department of Justice.” By doing this, Biden is implementing stronger governmental accountability that he hopes U.S. citizens can rely on in the future.
(Sources: NY Times, CBS, CNBC, Vox, Washington Post, ABC, CNN, Bloomberg, NBC, Business Insider)