Updated: Sep 5, 2021
By Yashavi Prakash
Image via The Atlantic
As the days neared inauguration, President-Elect Biden told the American people that on his first day of office he would be deeply committed to establishing policy ranging from racial equity to environmental concerns, all while scrapping previous Trump-era orders and proclamations he believed were a stain to America’s legacy as global leaders.
Now, nearly a week after the inauguration, it is clearly evident that President Biden fulfilled his campaign promises by signing a remarkable 17 executive orders on his first day of office (with plenty more on their way). For many groups in this country who are underserved or marginalized, the ambition of the new administration encouraged hope when following one the darkest and grimmest presidencies in American history.
Here’s a round-up of all of the actions, memorandums, and proclamations President Biden signed on his ambitious first day in office, along with 8 special orders signed in the days after inauguration.
January 20th, 2021
Regulatory Freeze Pending Review
According to a memorandum sent by President Biden’s chief of staff, any new and pending rules passed in the last days of the Trump administration will be reviewed by department and agency heads.
Paris Climate Agreement
President Biden fulfilled one of his top campaign promises to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement that former President Trump left at the height of a global climate crisis.
Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government
President Biden ordered the government to pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, specifically for individuals who “belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment”, such as people of color, members of religious minorities, LGBTQ+ persons, persons with disabilities, persons who live in rural areas, and persons who are “adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality”.
He calls for the White House Domestic Policy Council to coordinate efforts “to remove systemic barriers to and provide equal access to opportunities and benefits, identify communities the Federal Government has underserved, and develop policies designed to advance equity for those communities”. President Biden has ordered the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to partner with the heads of agencies and study methods to assess whether agency policies and actions pose barriers to “full and equal participation by all eligible individuals”.
Additionally, he ordered the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to identify opportunities to promote equity in the budget to address the historical failure of the Federal Government to justly and equally invest in underserved communities.
Proclamation on Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to The United States
In this proclamation, President Biden has acknowledged the stain the previous administration’s travel bans on Muslim and African countries, describing them as a jeopardy to “our global network of alliances and partnerships” and a “stain on our national conscience”.
Upon signing the order, President Biden has revoked three proclamations and one executive order from the previous administration, and ordered the Secretary of State to direct all Embassies and Consulates to resume visa processing within 45 days of the date of the Proclamation. Additionally, the Secretary of State is required to report the number of visa applicants who were being considered for a waiver of restrictions under two proclamations on the date of this proclamation and a plan for expeditiously resolving their pending visa applications, and a proposal to ensure that individuals whose visas were denied have their applications reconsidered.
Due to his commitment to review and improve the nation’s information-sharing practices, President Biden has also ordered the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security to provide a report considering the current screening and vetting procedures for those seeking immigrant and nonimmigrant entry to the United States, and the efficacy of the country’s information-sharing practices in regard to those of foreign governments.
Executive Order on Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing
In response to the nation’s Covid-19 crisis, President Biden passed his first legislation on the pandemic ordering the heads of executive departments and agencies to require employees to wear masks and social distance on Federal Property. In addition to the federal worker’s mask mandate, the president has also placed an emphasis on “maximizing public compliance with mask-wearing” by ordering the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Director of the CDC to engage with State, local, Tribal, and territorial officials and community leaders.
Alongside incentivizing mask-wearing and other public health practices identified by the CDC, President Biden has established the Safer Federal Workforce, a Task Force to provide ongoing guidance to heads of agencies on the “operation of the Federal Government, the safety of its employees, and the continuity of Government functions during the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Executive Order on Organizing and Mobilizing the United States Government to Provide a Unified and Effective Response to Combat COVID-19 and to Provide United States Leadership on Global Health and Security
To accompany the president’s previous Covid-19 response, President Biden has ordered the creation of the position of the Covid-19 response coordinator to advise the president on the pandemic and oversee the distribution of vaccines, tests, and other supplies. He has also ordered the Assistant to the President for National security Affairs (APNSA) to improve preparedness and potential responses to biological threats and pandemics.
Executive Order on the Revision of Civil Immigration Enforcement Policies and Priorities
In revoking a Trump-era immigration executive order, President Biden recognized the contribution immigrants have made to businesses, the economy, and their communities, and vowed to “address the humanitarian challenges at the southern border” and enforce civil immigration laws that will align with the Biden Administration’s values and priorities. The order will reverse the Trump-era policy to “crackdown” on the communities of the nation’s largest sanctuary cities that shield undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Executive Order on Revocation of Certain Executive Orders concerning Federal Regulation
With this order, President Biden sought to revoke numerous Trump-era orders that restricted how federal agencies make regulatory changes.
Executive Order on Ensuring a Lawful and Accurate Enumeration and Apportionment Pursuant to the Decennial Census
President Biden highlighted the nation’s long standing tradition to respect the dignity and humanity of every person, and to represent the interest of all people without regard to whether its residents are in lawful immigration status. The President goes on to point out how the census and apportionment process are enshrined in the fourteenth amendment stating that:
“The Fourteenth Amendment apportions seats in the House of Representatives ‘among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State.’ Article I, in turn, provides that, in order to determine those numbers, an “actual Enumeration” of the population of the United States must be conducted every 10 years.“
Contrary to what many republican officials argue, the president states that the Nation’s Founding has never excluded a person from the census on the basis of their immigration status, and that the term “persons in each state” has been understood to count each person “whose usual place of residence was in that State as of the designated census date”. He goes on to say that this practice has ensured that “the basis of representation in the House is every individual of the community at large”; a practice that the former president has broken with the intent to change the apportionment base. President Biden recognized the conflict this policy posed on the nation’s and constitution’s principle of equal representation by “inappropriately” relying on records related to immigration status that “were likely to be incomplete or inaccurate”.
To eradicate the Trump Administration's attempt to discontinue this practice, President Biden revoked the two presidential actions from the previous administration and ordered that, by the 14th amendment and section 2a(a) of title 2 United States Code, the decennial census should include “all persons whose usual place of residence was in that State as of the designated census date, regardless of immigration status”.
Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis
Alongside committing to protect the nation’s public health and environment, the president made sure to emphasize the importance of advancing environmental justice(by holding pollutants accountable who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities) as part of tackling the climate crisis.
He called for the immediate review of agency actions between January 20, 2017, and January 20, 2021, giving agencies the authority to suspend, revise, or rescind their action within a specific time frame. These actions include, but are not limited to, reducing methane emissions in the oil and gas sector, protecting our air from harmful, or establishing ambitious, job-creating fuel economy standards. The president also orders the heads of agencies to submit proposals that would advance his climate agenda and line up with the nation’s primary concerns.
Alongside these actions, President Biden has restored several national monuments, paused the oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in “the light of alleged legal deficiencies underlying the program”, and he revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, as it would cut through Indigenous communities and it would dis-serve U.S. national interest.
To ensure that the White House accurately determined the “social benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions”, the president has also established an Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases.
Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender identity or Sexual Orientation
Because of the Biden’ Aministration’s commitment to fully enforce Title VII and the reasoning in Bostock v Clayton County, the president ordered the head of each agency to enforce and expand prohibitions on sex discrimination on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.
Modernizing Regulatory Review
This memorandum reaffirmed the principles set in an Obama-era executive order which “took important steps towards modernizing the regulatory review process”, and, when carried out well, can help to advance regulatory policies to swiftly tackle the many serious challenges we face today and, therefore, improve the lives of the American people.
Executive Order on Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel
President Biden signed an order requiring all government appointees to sign an ethics pledge, which will prohibit the acceptance of gifts from registered lobbyists or lobbying organizations (Lobbyist Gift Ban), participating in a matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to former employers or former clients from two years before my appointment date (Revolving Door Ban - All Appointees Entering Government), of, if the appointee was a lobbyist, from participating in the specific issue are on which they lobbied for within the two years before their appointment (Revolving Door Ban - Lobbyists and Registered Agents Entering Government). The order also includes agreeing to not lobby any covered executive branch official, for example, for at least two years after exiting the government (Revolving Door Ban - Appointees Leaving Government). These were 4 of the 9 requirements all government appointees must sign.
Proclamation on the Termination of Emergency with Respect to the Southern Border of the United States and Redirection of Funds Diverted to Border Wall Construction
In the first two lines of the proclamation, President Biden recognizes the right and duty of this nation to secure its borders and protect its people against harmful threats; however, it eliminates the notion that building a “massive wall that spans the entire southern border” is a serious policy solution. Due to the president’s strong commitment in preserving the nation’s values, Biden paused work on the border project and called on an assessment of the legality of the funding and contracting methods, and, instead, ordered the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Attorney General, the Director of Office of Management and Budget, and the heads of any other appropriate executive departments to develop a plan to redirect the funds and repurpose contracts.
Executive Order Pausing Federal Student Loan Payments
According to NBC News, President Biden requested an “an extension of the freeze on federal student loan payments, writing that ‘[t]oo many Americans are struggling to pay for basic necessities and to provide for their families.’”
Memorandum For the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security: Reinstating Deferred Enforced Departure for Liberians
In the memorandum, President Biden acknowledges that the United States has provided a safe haven for Liberians who were forced to flee their country, granted by the Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The memo blocked the deportation of Liberian refugees, reinstating the deferment of their departure granted by the Bush and Obama administrations.
Memorandum for the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security: Preserving and Fortifying Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
President Biden reaffirms a memorandum during the Obama-Biden Administration known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which deferred the removal of “certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, have obeyed the law, and stayed in school or enlisted in the military”. This memo seeks to preserve and fortify DACA making sure that the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Attorney General, shall take all actions to “preserve and fortify DACA”.
Special Executive Orders in His First Ten Days of Office
Executive Order on Enabling All Qualified Americans to Serve Their Country in Uniform
In signing this order, President Biden repealed the former administration’s ban on transgender people serving openly in the military, stating that “there is substantial evidence that allowing transgender individuals to serve in the military does not have any meaningful negative impact on the Armed Forces”. The president recognized how the previous administration failed to rely on a comprehensive study by a nonpartisan federally funded research center, which led to unnecessary barriers to military service.
While recognizing the previous administration’s erroneous policies and orders regarding transgender persons, the president ordered the secretary of defense to immediately prohibit “involuntary separations, discharges, and denials of reenlistment or continuation of service on the basis of gender identity or under circumstances relating to their gender identity”, and to identify and examine the records of service members who have been involuntary separated, discharged, or denied reenlistment on these reasonings.
Executive Order on ensuring the Future Is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers
In an effort to bolster American businesses and American manufacturing, the President signed an order to direct the heads of agencies to strengthen the requirements about “purchasing products and services from U.S. workers and businesses” and to “close loopholes that allow companies to offshore production and jobs while still qualifying for domestic preferences”.
Executive Order on Reforming Our Incarceration System to Eliminate the Use of Privately Operated Criminal Detention Facilities
In an effort to reduce incarceration levels in the United States, the Biden Administration has recognized that it is imperative to reduce profit-based incentives to mass incarcerate (specifically the disproportionate number of people of color) by “phasing out the Federal Government’s reliance on privately operated criminal detention facilities”. To ensure this change, the president has directed the Attorney General to not renew the Department of Justice contracts with private prisons.
Memorandum on Tribal Consultation and Strengthening Nation-to-Nation Relationships
Fulfilling the promise to honor and respect the sovereignty of American Indian and Alaska Native tribes, President Biden has reaffirmed a Clinton-era policy mandating all department heads to engage in “regular, meaningful, and robust consultation with Tribal officials in the development of Federal policies that have Tribal implications” in an effort to strengthen the Nation-to-Nation relationship between the U.S. and Tribal Nations. In doing so, he has directed the head of each agency to submit a detailed plan of actions to implement the Clinton-era policy within 90 days of the date of this memorandum, as well as an order for the Director of OMB, in coordination with the APDP, to submit a report on the implementation of the Clinton-era policy within a year of the date of this memorandum. He has also outlined that recommendations for improving the plans and making the “Tribal consultation process more effective” should be included in the report.
Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States
In response to the massive surge in racism and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the president has urged the Department of Health and Human services to consider issuing guidance on cultural competency , and “mitigating racially discriminatory language in describing the Covid-19 pandemic”. Additionally, the order has directed the Attorney General to prevent discrimination, bullying, harassment, and hate crimes against AAPI individuals.
Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad
In accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement and the Biden Administration’s commitment to the climate crisis, the president has called for the United States to “determine its target for emissions reduction and directed federal agencies to incorporate climate considerations into their international plans”.
Additionally, the order has directed agencies to purchase American-made, zero-emission vehicles to “create union jobs as part of Biden’s ‘Buy American’ agenda” and it has established the Office of Domestic Climate policy, a national climate task force, and a working group to assist communities impacted by coal mining and power plants. The order has also established an environmental justice council to fulfill part of the president’s commitment to “address the disproportionate...impacts on disadvantaged communities”, and it has vowed to suspend new oil and natural gas leases.
Memorandum on Protecting Women’s Health at Home and Abroad
In an effort to protect women and girl’s reproductive rights, President Biden immediately revoked the Reagen-era “Mexico City Policy”, also known as the global gal rule, that blocked U.S. federal funding for non-governmental organizations that “provided abortion counseling or referrals, advocated to decriminalize abortion, or expanded abortion services”. President Biden reversed the former president’s expansions to apply the policy to “global health assistance provided by all executive departments and agencies”, deeming it as an excessive expansion that undermined the country’s efforts to advance gender equality by restricting the government’s ability to support “women’s health programs that prevent and respond to gender-based violence”. The president also acknowledges that the expansion of the policy has affected other areas of global health assistance, and limiting the nation’s ability to confront serious health challenges such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and many others.
Additionally, the Biden Administration directed the Department of Health and Human Services to rescind Trump regulations and expansions under Title X that could impose undue restrictions on the “use of Federal funds or women’s access to complete medical information”.
Written by writer Yashavi Prakash