Just about every elected president is allowed to catch a breath on Inauguration Day, but newly minted President Joe Biden didn’t seem to want to do that, as he signed 17 executive actions, with the intent to set the course for his new administration as soon as he was off the block. During his first appearance in the Oval Office as the boss, he got to work, saying “This is going to be the first of many engagements we’re going to have in here. I thought with the state of the nation today there’s no time to waste. Get to work immediately” (via CNN).
The legislation identified priorities in key areas covering the pandemic, foreign policy, climate change and immigration (via The Hill); Biden was under no illusion that the orders were band-aids, because he called them “starting points” and added “There’s a long way to go. These are just executive actions,” he went on. “But we’re going to need legislation for a lot of these we’re going to do.”
Actions addressing the pandemic
As he promised, Biden’s first executive order had to do with issuing a mask mandate for federal properties. HuffPost points out that the act is mostly symbolic; the president can enforce a mask mandate in areas under federal government control, but he doesn’t have the ability to enforce the mandate at the state or local levels.
He also issued a “100 Days Masking Challenge”, which asks the country to wear masks for 100 days (via WWLP). While there are certain to be critics, at least one poll shows that 74 percent of Americans support the mask plan, and this includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose president Suzanne P. Clark says “While the Chamber will not agree on every policy the administration puts forward, we applaud the commitment to taking action against the unprecedented challenges starting with the pandemic and then restoring the economy. President Biden’s call for 100 days of mask wearing is a smart and practical approach, and one that we are proud to join.”
Aside from the mask mandate, Biden also stopped the U.S. from pulling away from the World Health Organization. The U.S. also hopes to join Covax, which is committed to bringing vaccines to low-income countries. Pandemic expert Dr. Anthony Fauci will be leading a U.S. delegation to the WHO’s yearly meeting, which kicks off this week (via CNBC).
Actions addressing the environment and climate change
The U.S. might have played a big role in pulling together the Paris climate aggreement, but that flew out the window when Donald Trump became president in 2017 (via BBC). President Joe Biden is now hoping to make up for lost time by singing an executive order for the country to rejoin the accord, which is critical to trying to head off potentially devastating climate change scenarios. The accord was meant to keep global temperatures by rising by no more than 2 degrees. As NPR points out, global temperatures are already up by just over one degree.
Climate change advocates are relieved to see the order. Dr. M. Sanjayan, Conservation International’s chief executive, tells NPR that the window for meaningful action is “now very narrow — we have no time to waste. President Biden’s action today is certainly a step in the right direction.”
Actions addressing immigration
Another round of executive orders signed immediately after the Inauguration involved immigration. President Biden moved to extend the DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as well as the previous administration’s ban on travelers from Muslim countries (via PBS News Hour). The Biden White House further said it would work to grant as many as 11 million undocumented immigrants a way to become US citizens. Politico has already reported that the action took interest groups by surprise, because of the aggressive nature of the agenda.
One sector that is celebrating: Tech, which has long asked for comprehensive immigration policies that would actually boost the U.S. economy, because it needs visas for highly skilled workers who might be from outside the country (via The Verge). As Twitter put it: “The @POTUS DACA Executive Order signed this evening delivers hope for #Dreamers. Diversity makes the US, our company, and our world better — we’ll continue to advocate for policies that support and recognize the important contributions of immigrants.”
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