White House News
January 28, 2021
Biden Unleashes Blizzard of Executive Actions
In his first few days in office, President Joe Biden signed 30 executive orders, actions, and memorandums, with many of them seeking to dismantle President Trump’s policies. Below is a brief roundup of President Biden’s most significant early actions as president.
Rejoining Paris Climate Agreement
On his first day in office, Joe Biden fulfilled one of his top campaign promises by committing to putting the United States back in the Paris Climate Agreement. The Obama-era agreement is an international pact aimed at cutting down on the level of carbon emissions being spewed by the countries in the deal, which scientists say are contributing to global warming. President Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017, saying that the deal disproportionately affects American businesses and taxpayers.
Halt to Approval of Trump Rules
Biden signed a memorandum freezing the approval of rules that were passed in the final days of the Trump administration. According to the memorandum, all new and pending rules from the Trump administration are subject to review by department and agency heads, and a decision on whether to implement them will be made later.
Action to Fight COVID-19
President Biden took a number of steps in an attempt to assist in the response to COVID-19. He signed a mandate requiring anyone on federal property to wear a mask and observe social distancing guidelines. The president doesn’t have the authority to issue a nationwide mask mandate, but he said that requiring masking on federal property would “encourage masking across America.”
Biden came under almost immediate fire after signing the order, after he was seen celebrating his inauguration on federal property without wearing a mask. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tried explaining away the inconsistency in Biden’s messaging by saying that he wasn’t wearing a mask because he was “celebrating.”
President Biden also signed an executive order to promote safety while traveling. In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, Biden mandated everyone to wear masks on all forms of public transportation, including on planes, trains, buses, and boats.
Biden also directed his secretary of health to increase support for research into coronavirus treatments as well as to increase support for facilities hardest hit by the pandemic, including nursing homes. Additionally, the president directed all department and agency heads to “facilitate the gathering, sharing, and publication of COVID-19-related data” so that his administration can make the most informed decisions relating to the coronavirus pandemic.
In another memorandum, Biden directed his secretaries of defense and homeland security to support the decision by some governors to deploy the National Guard in their efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, and for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fully fund those efforts.
In another order, Biden requested the heads of various departments to assess the nationwide availability of resources necessary to distribute coronavirus tests and vaccines, and to develop a manufacturing strategy for necessary supplies in “future pandemics and biological threats.”
The president also established the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, which is intended to address social inequalities that have been made worse by the pandemic. The task force will give recommendations on how to allocate resources and funding to combat disparities in COVID-19 outcomes due to race, ethnicity, and other factors.
Biden also ordered the Department of Education, in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services, to develop guidance for schools “in deciding whether and how to reopen and how to remain open for in-person learning, and in safely conducting in-person learning.”
In another executive order, Biden ordered the Department of Labor to give new guidance to employers to promote the health and safety of workers during the pandemic, which would include mandating mask wearing in the workplace.
Expanded Food Assistance
President Biden signed an executive order to extend the 15-percent increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and to allow states to increase their allotments for emergency SNAP benefits, as well as to increase benefits under the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer, a program that gives students money to buy food.
Biden also signed a memorandum fortifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, first instituted by President Obama and which President Trump later tried undoing. The DACA program shields millions who were brought as children to the United States from deportation. The memorandum signed by President Biden is intended to ensure that DACA recipients remain shielded from deportation during his tenure as president.
Pulling of Funds for Border Wall, Revised Immigration Enforcement
Biden ended the construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border—one of the top priorities of President Trump—by blocking funding for the program. In a statement, the Biden administration said that “building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border is not a serious policy solution. It is a waste of money that diverts attention from genuine threats to our homeland security.”
Joe Biden signed an order revoking the Trump-era policy to crack down on “sanctuary cities”—communities that shield undocumented immigrants from deportation. The new president promised to “protect national security” and “address the humanitarian challenges at the southern border” while at the same time loosening immigration enforcement policies. Biden also signed an order to count undocumented immigrants in the national census, overturning President Trump’s attempt to exclude them.
Cancellation of Keystone XL Pipeline
Along with a handful of actions to “advance environmental justice,” President Biden revoked a permit given by the Trump administration for the Keystone XL pipeline, a 1,200-mile pipeline intended to deliver crude oil to the US from Canada. Critics of the pipeline say it cuts through the land of indigenous Americans and is unacceptable, but supporters say the pipeline would decrease America’s dependence on oil from the Middle East and would help create tens of thousands of high-paying jobs.
The memorandum signed by Biden also pauses the government’s leasing of oil and gas reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.