Michael D. Shear
c.2021 The New York Times Company
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will unleash a full-scale assault on his predecessor’s legacy Wednesday, acting hours after taking the oath of office to sweep aside former President Donald Trump’s pandemic response, reverse his environmental agenda, tear down his anti-immigration policies, bolster the sluggish economic recovery and restore federal efforts aimed at promoting diversity.
Moving with an urgency not seen from any other modern president, Biden will sign 17 executive orders, memorandums and proclamations from the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon, according to his top policy advisers.
Individually, the actions are targeted at what the president views as specific, egregious abuses by Trump during four tumultuous years. Collectively, his advisers said Biden’s assertive use of executive authority was intended to be a hefty and visible down payment on one of his primary goals as president: to, as they said Tuesday, “reverse the gravest damages” done to the country by Trump.
“We’ll press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities,” Biden said during his inaugural address at the Capitol, delivered to a crowd shrunken by fear of the coronavirus and threats of violence. “Much to repair. Much to restore. Much to heal. Much to build and much to gain.”
In his remarks, Biden stressed unity of purpose, urging Americans to “see each other not as adversaries but as neighbor” and pleaded with citizens and leaders to “join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature.”
But his first actions in office are aimed not at compromise and cooperation with his adversaries, but instead suggest a determination to quickly erase much of the Trump agenda. He will work within four broad categories that his aides described as the “converging crises” he inherited at noon Wednesday: the pandemic, economic struggles, immigration and diversity issues, and the environment and climate change.
In some cases, Biden plans to unilaterally and immediately reverse policies and procedures that Trump put in place. In other instances, limits on his authority require the president to direct others in his administration to act or even to begin what could be a long process to shift the federal government in a new direction.
“A new day,” Jeff Zients, the coordinator of Biden’s coronavirus response, said Tuesday. “A new, different approach to managing the country’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.”
One of Biden’s first actions Wednesday will be to sign an executive order making Zients the government’s official COVID-19 response coordinator, reporting to the president. The order will also restore the directorate for global health security and biodefense at the National Security Council, a group that Trump had disbanded.
Biden will also sign an executive order that Trump had steadfastly refused to issue during his tenure — imposing a national mandate requiring masks and physical distancing in all federal buildings, on all federal lands and by all federal employees, officials said. And he will terminate Trump’s efforts to leave the World Health Organization, sending Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, to participate in the group’s annual executive board meeting Thursday.
Aides said many of Biden’s actions Wednesday were aimed at reversing Trump’s harshest immigration policies.
He will sign an executive order revoking the Trump administration’s plan to exclude noncitizens from the census count and a second order aimed at bolstering the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects “Dreamers” from deportation. Trump had sought for years to end the program, known as DACA.
Biden will repeal two Trump-era proclamations that established a ban on travel to the United States from several predominantly Muslim and African countries, ending one of his predecessor’s earliest actions to limit immigration. Advisers said Biden would direct the State Department to develop ways to address the harm caused to those prevented from coming to the United States because of the ban.
Another executive order will revoke enhanced enforcement of immigration violations aimed at people already inside the United States. Another will block deportation of Liberians who had been living in the United States. And another will halt construction of Trump’s border wall — which was devised to keep immigrants out of the country — while Biden’s administration examines the legality of the wall’s funding and its construction contracts.
“We believe that we can take steps to immediately reverse the elements of the Trump policies that were deeply inhumane and did not reflect our country’s values,” said Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, “while at the same time sending a practical, credible, clear signal that this is not the mo
Biden, who takes office after a year of racial upheaval in the country, will move quickly Wednesday to begin to unwind some of Trump’s policies that he views as contributing to the polarization and division, according to his top domestic policy adviser.
Susan Rice, who will lead the president’s Domestic Policy Council, said Biden would sign a broad executive order aimed at requiring all federal agencies to make equity a central factor in their work. The order will, among other things, require that they deliver a report within 200 days to address how to remove barriers to opportunities in policies and programs.
Biden will direct federal agencies to conduct reviews looking to eliminate systemic discrimination in their policies and to reverse historic discrimination in safety net and other federal spending, Rice said. And he will begin a working group examining federal data collection on diversity grounds.
“The president-elect promised to root out systemic racism from our institutions,” Rice told reporters Tuesday. “And this initiative is a first step in that historic work. 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.”
Another executive order will require that the federal government does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, a policy that reverses action by Trump’s administration. Another will overturn a Trump executive order that limited the ability of federal government agencies to use diversity and inclusion training.
And Biden will cancel Trump’s 1776 Commission, which released a report Monday that historians said distorted the history of slavery in the United States.
Many of Trump’s most significant actions as president were aimed at limiting regulation of the environment and pulling back from efforts to combat climate change. Biden’s earliest actions as president will take aim at those policies, officials said.
On Wednesday, he will sign a letter indicating that the United States will rejoin the Paris climate accords, reversing Trump’s departure from the global organization.
He will then sign an executive order beginning the process of overturning environmental policies under the Trump administration, including rescinding rollbacks to vehicle emissions standards; imposing a moratorium on oil and natural gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline; and reestablishing a working group on the social costs of greenhouse gasses.
“The day one climate executive orders will begin to put the U.S. back on the right footing, a footing we need to restore American leadership, helping to position our nation to be the global leader in clean energy and jobs,” said Gina McCarthy, Biden’s national climate adviser.
As he promised during the campaign, Biden will also take several steps Wednesday to help Americans struggling through continued financial hardship brought on by the pandemic, in some cases reversing policies embraced by his predecessor.
He will extend a federal moratorium on evictions and ask agencies, including the departments of Agriculture, Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, to prolong a moratorium on foreclosures on federally guaranteed mortgages. The extensions would all run through the end of March.
Another order targets Americans with heavy educational debt, continuing a pause on federal student loan interest and principal payments through the end of September.
Progressive groups and some congressional Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who will become majority leader Wednesday, had pushed Biden to move even more aggressively and act on day one to cancel up to $50,000 per person in student debt. Instead, Biden’s aides renewed his campaign call for Congress to act to cancel up to $10,000 in individual student debt.
As some of his predecessors have done, Biden will sign an executive order meant to establish ethics rules for those who serve in his administration. Aides said he would also order all of his appointees in the executive branch to sign an ethics pledge.
Biden will also issue a freeze on all new regulations put in motion by his predecessor to give his administration time to evaluate which ones should move forward — if any.
Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, said the executive actions Biden takes Wednesday will be followed by a steady stream of others almost daily.
“President-elect Biden will continue to take action over the next 10 days — and over his entire time in office — to address the four crises that he’s laid out,” Psaki said. “In the coming days and weeks, we will be announcing additional executive actions that confront these challenges and deliver on the president-elect’s promises to the American people, including revoking the ban on military service by transgender Americans.”