Joe Biden placed his hand on a comically large bible and swore his oath of office Wednesday afternoon in front various dignitaries, a smattering of socially distanced attendees and many, many miniature flags. Now the real work begins. While the White House moves to assemble ambitious legislative packages to address the climate crisis, immigration reform, and other priorities, Biden got a head start with a flurry of executive orders Wednesday to reverse or freeze a long list Trump-era rules and regulations.
“I’m going to start by keeping my promises to the American people,” Biden said from the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon, acknowledging, “There is still a long way to go.”
The first order he signed was a mandate requiring masks be worn on federal property, and encouraging all Americans to mask for the next 100 days. In addition to a flurry of memoranda designed to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic as well as a new ethics pledge (Trump rescinded the one limiting his aides’ ability to lobby in D.C. late Tuesday night), here’s what else Biden achieved with the single stroke of a pen on Wednesday:
Shovels Down on the Border Wall
Among Biden’s orders on Wednesday is a proclamation officially ceasing construction on the border wall, the rhetorical centerpiece of Trump’s 2016 campaign. In 2019, Trump shut the government down over Congress’ refusal to fund construction on the wall; he was ultimately forced to issue a national declaration to pay for the project. Today, Biden ended that declaration. A total of 452 miles of fencing across the 1,954-mile border were erected over the past four years. In a fitting coda to the entire affair, hours before Trump left the White House for his last time as president, he pardoned his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, charged earlier this year in a scheme that defrauded hundreds of thousands of Trump supporters who donated $25 million to a crowdfunding campaign called “We Build The Wall.” (The Justice Department indictment accused Bannon of personally pocketing more than $1 million of that money.)
Repeal of the Muslim Ban
One of former President Trump’s most frothingly xenophobic executive orders ends Wednesday as President Biden rescinds Trump’s ban on travel from majority-Muslim and African nations. (Prayers up, Stephen Miller!) The order officially repeals proclamations 9645 and 9983, and orders the State Department to begin processing visas from impacted countries, to “restore fairness and remedy the harms caused by the bans” — especially for those travelers currently caught in visa limbo.
Return to the Paris Climate Agreement, End to the Keystone XL Pipeline and More
One of Trump’s earliest moves as president was to withdraw the United States from the 2015 global agreement to limit greenhouse gases. It took almost Trump’s entire tenure to unwind the U.S.’s commitment to the compact — the move only became official on November 4th, 2020, the day after voters ejected Trump from office. Happily, it won’t take as long to rejoin the Paris Agreement: The United States will be party to it again within 30 days of Biden’s order.
Biden is also revoking on Wednesday the permit Trump granted to operators of the Keystone XL Pipeline, an $8 billion project that would have ferried crude oil from from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast.
Both moves comes amid other environmental directives from the administration, including a review, to be undertaken by all agencies and departments, to undo any actions taken in the last four years “that were harmful to public health, damaging to the environment, unsupported by the best available science, or otherwise not in the national interest.” Oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are to be reconsidered, as are the boundaries of national monuments — including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah — which shrunk under the Trump administration.
Protection for Dreamers
A few months after assuming office, Trump rescinded Obama-era protections for undocumented individuals brought to the United States as children, known as “Dreamers.” It was a particularly personal blow to his predecessor, who’d made it clear to Trump that dismantling the protections he’d put in place was the one thing he could not abide quietly. Obama, in a move that seems somewhat quaint years later, called Trump’s decision “wrong,” “self-defeating” and “cruel.” Today, Biden signs a memorandum directing the secretary of Homeland Security and the attorney general (neither of whom have been officially confirmed yet) to take “all appropriate actions under the law” to preserve and fortify Obama’s DACA policy (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). The memo also calls on Congress to provide a path to citizenship for the Dreamers.
The End of Stepped-up ICE Enforcement and the Battle over the Census
Biden is ending a Trump executive order that dramatically increased immigration enforcement in U.S. cities and states. According to the transition team, “This revocation will allow the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies to set civil immigration enforcement policies that best protect the American people and are in line with our values and priorities.”
Biden is likewise signing an order Wednesday reversing a Trump executive order that excluded undocumented immigrants from the census count.
Moratoriums on Eviction, Foreclosure, and Student Loans
Biden is calling on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to extend the federal eviction moratorium until the end of March, and demanding Congress step up to provide assistance to those one in five renters and one in 10 homeowners who have fallen behind on payments. Agencies involved in federally guaranteed mortgages — the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development — are likewise being asked to consider extending foreclosure moratoriums for the same period.
To ease the burden on borrowers with student loan debt, the president is signing an order asking the Department of Education to extend the moratorium on interest and principal payments for federal loans until the end of September, at least.
1776 Commission Canceled, and an Executive Order Codifying Racial and Gender Equity
Biden is signing an order directing all federal agencies to take a hard look at their organizational charts and employee directories and assess whether or not they are representative of the broader American public, and if not, deliver a plan to address inequities in their offices and activities within the first year of the Biden administration. The Office of Management will be tasked with funding those efforts. Biden also signed an executive order prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The same executive order rescinds the 1776 Commission, the Trump administration’s just-released, lightly plagiarized report whitewashing America’s racist history, and revokes the Trump order barring government agencies and contractors from implementing diversity and inclusion training.