President Joe Biden wasted no time making good on campaign promises. On Wednesday, he issued a flurry of powerful Executive Orders designed to dismantle large parts of former President Donald Trump’s disgraceful administration. Just hours after swearing the oath of office, Biden signed 17 key policy reforms certain to please Democratic activists—and antagonize lingering pro-Trump forces in Congress.
Biden’s policy priorities take on new weight now that Democrats control both the House of Representatives and the Senate. For the first time in over half a decade, congressional Democrats are in a position to execute large portions of their boss’s agenda. Here are three of Biden’s biggest day one presidential actions.
1) Biden wants to push forward on the environment. Now. On June 1, 2019, Trump performatively withdrew the United States from the 175-nation Paris Agreement on greenhouse gas reduction. On Wednesday, Biden re-entered the agreement, returning America to the international table as a serious collaborator in the fight against climate change.
This is huge. Biden’s recommitment to the international community is a stark change from Trump’s “America alone” approach to leadership. It also comes at a critical time: America’s State Department is now beginning the long process of rebuilding the American brand after four years of dealing from Trump and his cronies.
Biden didn’t stop with international policy. With the stroke of a pen, Biden withdrew federal support for the controversial (and already environmentally damaging) Keystone XL pipeline. The Sunrise Movement, a coalition of climate activists, praised the move in a tweet, saying, “10 years later, the people prevail and Keystone XL is dead once again.”
The end of Keystone is a signal victory not only for environmentalists, but for Native Americans who saw their tribal rights trampled by a GOP more committed to supporting Big Oil than it was to honoring government-tribal agreements. North Dakota-based advocacy group Lakota People’s Law Project called the decision a “pivot point in history.” It’s a big deal, and it sends the clear message that Biden wants action on climate change, and he’s willing to act decisively to advance his climate policy vision.
2) Biden signed for the fall of the Trumpian Wall. Nowhere was Trump’s ghastly, inhumane presidency on more graphic display than in his punitive and wasteful immigration policies. Thanks to another Biden Executive Order, Trump’s signature border wall, which drained $11 billion from taxpayers’ pockets, will remain forever unfinished.
However, ending Trump’s delusional wall pales in comparison to the ongoing human rights crisis Biden’s actions will now end. This crisis is twofold: on one side are undocumented Americans brought to this country as children and protected by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly known as DACA. Trump made dismantling DACA a key part of his war on immigrants, but the Biden administration’s swift action to preserve and expand the program means those students are likely safe from future government harassment.
On the other side are the undocumented immigrants facing imminent deportation. The White House announced a 100-day moratorium on deportations, which is the clearest sign yet that Biden will reform as much of the immigration system as he can without congressional action. This will likely save countless lives, as immigration facilities have become hotbeds of Covid-19 infection.
However, Wednesday wasn’t all Executive Orders. Biden also sent a comprehensive immigration reform bill to Congress, which includes an immediate pathway to citizenship for some undocumented Americans like farmworkers and those newly-protected DACA kids.
This action is incredible, but it’ll also be a real test of Biden’s political management skills. A serious immigration reform bill eluded both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and Trump never pretended to be interested in legislative remedies.
3) Biden puts muscle behind America’s fight to beat COVID-19. Americans who followed the Trump administration’s coronavirus press briefings saw a president hopelessly outmatched by the twin public health and economic crises of a global pandemic.
Gone are the days of Trump urging Americans to inject bleach into their veins after initially denying the existence of any pandemic at all. In its place is a detailed action plan already rolling into action just hours after Biden’s inaugural ceremony.
“President Biden officially appointed a Covid-19 response coordinator...to create a unified national response to the pandemic,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in her first White House briefing. Psaki noted that Biden also relaunched a Trump-shuttered national security team responsible for global health security.
Biden is also addressing financial needs that may exacerbate the economic impact of Covid-19 for many citizens. He authorized the Acting Secretary of Education to extend a freeze on federal student loan repayments through at least September 30, while continuing to maintain a 0% interest rate on all outstanding loans. For millions of Americans at risk of eviction due to coronavirus-related job losses, the Biden administration also extended a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for the duration of the pandemic.
Biden’s rush of major Executive Orders reveals a president eager to make up for crucial time lost under Trump’s directionless and apathetic administration. They also reveal Biden’s often minimized progressivism and unwillingness to back down from tough policy fights. If perennially pessimistic Democrats expected Biden to be a go-along-get-along leader, they misjudged the strength of his moral courage.
Prevented from achieving landmark legislative victories by a Congress he despised, Trump spent most of his presidency building a legacy built on cruel Executive Orders and dangerous incompetence in the face of a global crisis. Now the Biden administration has dismantled much of that toxic legacy in the course of a single afternoon, and in the process laid the groundwork for the long recovery ahead.