President Joe Biden moved swiftly to dismantle Donald Trump's legacy just hours after his inauguration, signing a series of executive actions that reverse course on immigration, climate change, racial equity and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The new president signed the orders just hours after taking the oath of office at the Capitol, pivoting quickly from his pared-down inauguration ceremony to enacting his agenda.
With the stroke of a pen, Biden ordered a halt to the construction of Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall, ended the ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries, declared his intent to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organization and revoked the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The 15 executive actions amount to an attempt to rewind the last four years of federal policies with striking speed. Only two recent presidents signed executive actions on their first day in office — and each signed just one. But Biden, facing the debilitating coronavirus pandemic, a damaged economy and a riven electorate, is intent on demonstrating a sense of urgency and competence that he argues has been missing under his Republican predecessor.
“There’s no time to start like today," Biden said in his first comments to reporters as president.
Biden wore a mask as he signed the orders in the Oval Office — a marked departure from Trump, who rarely wore a face covering in public and never during events in the Oval Office. But mask-wearing is now required in the building; among the executive actions signed Wednesday was one putting in place a mask mandate on federal property.
Biden's order also extended the federal eviction freeze to aid those struggling from the pandemic economic fallout, created a new federal office to coordinate a national response to the virus and restored the White House’s National Security Council directorate for global health security and defence, an office his predecessor had closed.
The actions reflected the new president's top policy priority — getting a handle on a debilitating pandemic. In his inaugural address, Biden paused for what he called his first act as president — a moment of silent prayer for the victims of the nation’s worst public health crisis in more than a century.
He declared that he would “press forward with speed and urgency” in the coming weeks. “For we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities — much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build and much to gain,” he said in the speech.
But Biden's blitz of executive actions went beyond the pandemic. He targeted Trump's environmental record, calling for a review of all regulations and executive actions that are deemed damaging to the environment or public health, aides said Tuesday as they previewed the moves.
Another order instructs federal agencies to prioritise racial equity and review policies that reinforce systemic racism. Biden also revoked a Trump order that sought to exclude non-citizens from the census and ordered federal employees to take an ethics pledge that commits them to upholding the independence of the Justice Department.
Aides said he also revoked the just-issued report of Trump’s “1776 Commission” that promotes “patriotic education.”
Those moves and others will be followed by dozens more in the next 10 days, the president’s aides said, as Biden looks to redirect the country without having to go through a Senate that Democrats control by the narrowest margin and will soon turn to Trump's impeachment trial.