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Biden agenda of executive actions on Day 1 to address immigration, climate and pandemic

President-elect Joe Biden listens during an event at the Queen theater
President-elect Joe Biden during an event Saturday at the Queen theater in Wilmington, Del.
(Matt Slocum / Associated Press)

President-elect Joe Biden plans to issue a flood of executive orders in his first days in office, signaling a sharp break with his predecessor by reversing or revising contentious Trump administration policies on immigration, climate change, the coronavirus and other pressing issues, his incoming chief of staff said.

Biden intends to sign about a dozen executive decrees after his swearing-in Wednesday, followed by 10 days of additional actions he can take without having to wait for Congress to act, Ron Klain said in a memo to senior staff.

Noting that the country faces four overlapping crises — the pandemic, the economic distress caused by the coronavirus, racial inequality and climate change — Klain said Biden “will take action — not just to reverse the gravest damages of the Trump administration but also to start moving our country forward.”

The salvo of symbolic and substantive actions was meant to signal a sharp break with the policy drift under President Trump, who since November has focused on overturning Biden’s victory, and to build momentum for other agenda items that will require legislative action.

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Like most incoming presidents, Biden is harking back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who took office in the depths of the Great Depression and carried out a series of sweeping measures in his first 100 days meant to restore faith in the government and the country’s future.

The actions Biden plans on Inauguration Day include ending Trump’s restriction on immigration from several countries with majority-Muslim populations, rejoining the Paris climate accord and requiring that masks be worn on federal property and during interstate travel, according to the memo.

He will also extend a moratorium on student loan payments as well as measures aimed at preventing foreclosures and evictions, the memo said.

An eviction moratorium was instituted by the Trump administration in September, giving a reprieve to struggling renters nationwide who are affected by the coronavirus crisis, but it expires at the end of January. According to the memo, more than 25 million Americans face possible eviction from their homes.

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Klain sought to head off criticism that the executive orders might exceed Biden’s authority, suggesting that Trump’s similar strategy to carry out his own agenda had sometimes overstepped those limits.

“I want to be clear: the legal theory behind them is well-founded and represents a restoration of an appropriate, constitutional role for the President,” he wrote.

Trump also used executive orders and White House signing ceremonies to bypass Congress and create the impression of momentum for his supporters. Many of his orders were challenged or blocked by courts.

Klain acknowledged that “full achievement” of the new administration’s agenda will require Congress to pass a $1.9-trillion coronavirus relief bill outlined Thursday by Biden, as well as a sweeping immigration plan the president-elect plans to unveil during his first days in office.

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That plan is expected to provide a pathway to citizenship for about 11 million immigrants who are in the country illegally; it would also provide a shorter pathway to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of people with temporary protected status and beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals who were brought to the U.S. as children. It would probably also cover certain front-line essential workers, many of whom are immigrants.

Winning congressional support for his legislative agenda could prove difficult for Biden amid a narrowly divided Senate, where Republicans have tremendous power to slow or block legislation, even though Democrats will hold the majority.

Biden has said he wants to build bridges to the Republican Party and bring bipartisanship back to Washington. But Republicans, after ignoring the run-up of deficits under Trump, have expressed concern about the growth of government spending and have questioned the need for more relief for Americans affected by the pandemic.

The day after Biden is sworn in, Klain said, he plans to order actions aimed at expanding virus testing and speeding up the reopening of schools and businesses whose operations have been curtailed. A day later, he will focus on delivering further economic relief, Klain said.

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In a dig at the outgoing Trump administration, President-elect Joe Biden says his team of scientific advisors will lead with “science and truth”

Biden “will direct his Cabinet agencies to take immediate action to deliver economic relief to working families bearing the brunt of this crisis,” Klain wrote.

The vaccination effort is a departure from the Trump administration’s mostly hands-off approach, which has left states and localities to decide how to allocate and administer the vaccines and has avoided responsibility for testing for the coronavirus, which has killed more than 395,000 Americans.

In his second week on the job, Biden plans to take additional actions related to criminal justice reform, climate change and immigration, including steps to speed the reunions of families that were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under Trump.

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Trump has taken hundreds of sometimes interlocking actions on immigration, from little-noticed administrative adjustments to sweeping policy changes, that will not be easy for Biden to quickly reverse.

Klain said Biden will expand a “Buy America” provision that requires the government to purchase goods and services domestically, will take action to advance “equity and support communities of color” and will expand healthcare access. The memo did not describe the steps further.

Biden’s plan to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord would reverse the U.S. exit completed in November by the Trump administration. The agreement aims to keep the increase in average temperatures worldwide “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and ideally no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with preindustrial levels.

The Paris accord requires countries to set their own voluntary targets for reducing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and to steadily increase those goals every few years. The only binding requirement is that nations have to accurately report on their efforts.

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The immigration restriction put in place by Trump covers five Muslim-majority nations — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen — as well as North Korea and some government officials from Venezuela.

The administration was forced to revise the original order twice to resolve legal problems over due process, implementation and exclusive targeting of Muslim nations.


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