In flurry of orders, Biden aims at four ‘converging crises’

New administration takes steps to change course of pandemic, provide economic relief, tackle climate change, advance racial equity

As president, Joe Biden could pair many executive actions with more comprehensive legislative proposals sent to Capitol Hill. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
As president, Joe Biden could pair many executive actions with more comprehensive legislative proposals sent to Capitol Hill. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Posted January 20, 2021 at 5:00am

President-elect Joe Biden’s first day agenda has a pretty clear subtext: We’ve got this.

The incoming administration released a fact sheet hours ahead of Wednesday’s inauguration ceremony detailing immediate steps that it will take to tackle the still-raging coronavirus pandemic and other “converging crises” facing the country.

“He will sign a combination of executive orders, memoranda, directives, and letters to take initial steps to address these crises, including by changing the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, providing economic relief, tackling climate change, and advancing racial equity,” according to the fact sheet.

A chief criticism of President Donald Trump has been the lack of a consistent and coordinated national approach to the pandemic.

Biden will sign an executive order creating the position of “COVID-19 Response Coordinator,” who reports directly to the president. That person will be responsible for coordinating all elements of the response, which includes managing production and distribution of personal protective equipment, vaccines and tests.

Biden also will reverse the U.S. withdrawal from the World Health Organization, which his team described as “an entity that is critical to coordinating the international response to COVID-19, advancing preparedness for future epidemics and pandemics, and improving the health of all people.”

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will lead a delegation participating in this week’s WHO executive board meeting.

All of those steps come on top of a general push for Americans to follow public health recommendations on face coverings and physical distancing, with an actual mandate for masks on federal property.

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On the economic relief front, Biden wants to extend eviction and foreclosure moratoriums until at least March 31 and continue the existing student loan pause until Sept. 30.

“Borrowers of all ages are often faced with a tough tradeoff between making their student loan payments, investing in their long-term financial future, or paying their bills,” according to the fact sheet. “The pandemic has only increased the economic hardship of the millions of Americans who have student debt.”

On climate change, Biden will take steps to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and sign an executive order directing all departments to review and potentially roll back a host of Trump environmental actions. That includes dozens of specific agency rules identified in a separate list. He also plans to block from taking effect any “midnight” regulations issued at the last minute by the Trump administration.

Climate

Biden’s order calls for revising standards for vehicle fuel efficiency and emissions, methane emissions and the energy efficiency of buildings and appliances.

He will place a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and review the boundaries of national monuments such as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Trump drastically reduced the size of both of those Utah monuments.

Biden will revoke Trump’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and re-establish the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases.

On discrimination and inequality, Biden will sign orders stating that the government is responsible for advancing equity for all, including historically marginalized groups.

He will direct each agency to review the state of equity in their operations and deliver an action plan for addressing any barriers to opportunity within 200 days.

Biden will task Susan Rice, in her role as domestic policy adviser, to lead an interagency process for advancing equity.

His order also will rescind the 1776 Commission launched by the Trump administration. That commission recently issued a report that urged “restoring patriotic education that teaches the truth about America,” but historians criticized the report as factually inaccurate and politically charged.

Biden also plans to revoke Trump’s order limiting diversity and inclusion training sessions.

Immigration

On immigration, Biden will sign a memorandum instructing the Homeland Security secretary to preserve and bolster the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created under President Barack Obama.

That program shields from deportation individuals brought to the country illegally as children. Biden also plans to call on Congress to enact legislation providing permanent status and a path to citizenship for Dreamers.

He will reverse the so-called Muslim ban restricting travel from certain majority-Muslim countries, repeal Trump orders on interior immigration enforcement and halt construction on the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

That includes terminating the national emergency declaration Trump used to divert billions of dollars toward wall construction.

The Biden team says all of his first-day actions fall within the president’s role under the Constitution — and are just the beginning.

"As we've previously announced, President-elect Biden will continue to take action over the next 10 days — and over his entire time in office — to address the four crises that he's laid out,” incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.