Government

A Brief Look at Biden’s First Week in Office

READING TIME ~5 MINUTES

PHRASES TO KNOW:

  • Executive order: An order issued by the President that has the force of law. They have the same effect as a normal law, but can only be issued on a special set of issues that Congress has delegated to the President. 
  • Cabinet: The highest level officials in the Executive branch besides the President and Vice President. Each Cabinet member is the leader of an executive Department. Some notable examples are the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Administrator of the EPA. 
  • Memorandum: A proclamation issued by the President signaling a set of intended plans, goals, or policies. These do not hold the force of law and typically are used in a ceremonial manner to express support or disagreement with particular policies and values. 

Now that it has been over a week since President Biden stepped into the office of the nation’s highest executive, the question of how his term will unravel for the next four years has been lingering in the mind of the American public. Fortunately, if history tells us anything, these crucial first days are a major indication of the Biden Administration’s major policy focuses and will likely set the stage for the rest of his administration’s agenda. 

President Joe Biden signs his first executive order in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In what can only be described as a barrage of executive activity, President Biden has issued numerous executive orders touching on all corners of policy including the environment, immigration, racial equity, and numerous others. This flurry of executive action in the first week of office is nothing new. In fact, many of the cornerstone policies of the Trump Administration were made within his first week in office, including the border wall, the travel ban on certain Muslim-majority nations, and major reforms to the healthcare system just to name a few. Now remains the true question: What exactly has President Biden implemented thus far? 

Here are the main policy changes Biden has made so far:

  1. Reversal of Major Trump-era Policy
  2. The Travel Ban
  3. US-Mexico Border Wall
  4. The Environment
  5. Racial Equity
  6. COVID-19

1: Reversal of Major Trump-era Policy

An integral part of Biden’s campaign was posing himself as a “return to the status quo”.  The “status quo” in this case consists mainly of a plethora of liberal Obama-era reforms which were later suspended under the Trump Administration. Several of his major Cabinet picks are a good indication of this: An overwhelming number of the advisers and secretaries who will staff his Administration are veterans from Obama’s term in office.

Biden recently announced his White House Chief of Staff to be Ronald Klain, long-time aid to Biden during the Obama administration
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Biden’s intent to reverse a large portion of Trump’s policy and reinstate the Obama status quo is already evident, since he has already directly nullified a substantial number of Trump’s executive orders.

2: The Travel Ban

Bestcolleges.com

One of Biden’s first proclamations was the suspension of Trump’s “Muslim travel ban”. Although a common phrase, it is somewhat of a misnomer: The executive order in question was a restriction of new immigration from seven nations with Muslim majorities. Although lauded by some as a necessary measure in protecting national security, others have derided it as Islamophobic and plainly illegal. Even though it went through the Supreme Court, which ruled it was a Constitutional action, it did not survive the Biden Administration.

3: US-Mexican Border Wall

One of the biggest staples of the 2016 Presidential campaign was President Trump’s promise to construct a wall on the US-Mexican border. Although polling indicates that the majority of Americans supported a border wall up until around 2015, it was a very controversial endeavor and was one of the most contentious issues early in the Trump presidency. Although subject to prolonged legal issues, a tense situation with the Mexican government, and even partially responsible for a government shutdown, Trump was eventually given several billion dollars to begin construction on the wall. 

This, however, will not remain the case under the Biden administration. Characterizing it as “a waste of money that diverts attention from genuine threats to our homeland security”, Biden has officially suspended all emergency construction funding that was directed towards the border wall. 

Fences running along the US-Mexico border, taken in 2019 (Getty Images)

4: The Environment

Saul Loeb Getty Images

The past four years have marked a distinctively uncertain period for the future of environmental regulation. President Trump’s administration took a decidedly pro-business outlook on the environment, and this was reflected in several executive actions (albeit largely to the dismay of high-profile conservation advocacy groups). Two of the largest Trump-era environmental policies were that of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Paris Climate Agreement. For a brief refresher, the Keystone XL Pipeline is a proposed pipeline connecting pre-existing oil pipelines in America and Canada. It is debated for its alleged environmental concerns and the fact that it would cut through tracts of traditionally indigenous land in the Dakotas and Montana, although supporters of the executive order argue it has the potential to generate a vast number of jobs and industrial growth. On the other hand, the Paris Climate Agreement is an international treaty that has the long-term goal of mitigating global warming caused by man-made CO2 emission. It was ratified in 2016, but was subsequently withdrawn from by the Trump administration.

Biden’s administration has already revoked the Keystone Pipeline permit and signaled intent to re-enter the Paris Agreement, thus nullifying key provisions of the Trump-era imperative to maintain industrial growth over stricter environmental protection. 

A map showing plans for the Keystone XL Pipeline, although they were never completed (TransCanada Pipelines, LTD.)

Now, from what has already been said, you might get the impression that Biden’s administration has been nothing more than “anti-Trump”, a policy defined in terms of nothing more than undoing the policy of the previous administration. In all fairness, this is mostly the case thus far, but Biden has done several things on his own terms and will likely continue to do so as his presidency progresses, such as working towards racial equality and fighting COVID-19.

5: Racial Equity

One of President Biden’s early memorandums signaled an explicit intention for his administration to “advance equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality”. He has also re-established the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology while assigning it a specific duty to impart wisdom on how to best advance racial equity.

While committing to racial equity is certainly a commendable goal, both of these orders are largely symbolic. Whether the Biden administration will truly commit itself to racial equity will remain to be seen. 

6: COVID-19

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

With COVID-19 continuing to ravage through global populations, it should be of very little surprise that numerous executive orders have been directly related to COVID-19. These COVID-19 orders have, arguably, been the most important of his Administration in the short-term. Many of them are systematic and deal with a sweeping range of issues: Whether it be streamlining the delivery of Treasury stimulus payments, reinstating travel restrictions, guaranteeing the right to unemployment insurance when ill with COVID-19, or dealing with the adverse effects of the pandemic on marginalized populations, all have been covered in just one week. 

Conclusion

Although many of these executive actions are vastly important and will impact the entire policy of the federal government in many regards, none of these moves are particularly surprising. The real test for President Biden will be how he responds to an increasingly partisan, polarized climate and the various challenges that will inevitably arise during his administration. 


TL;DR

  • The first week of a Presidency usually includes crucial policy decisions and will establish the groundwork for other policies later in the term.
  • Many of Biden’s first-week executive actions have served to completely reverse major Trump admin policies, including the “Muslim travel ban”, the border wall, the Paris Climate Agreement, and others. 
  • However, Biden has also undertaken many executive actions unrelated to Trump, such as taking steps toward racial equality and lowering COVID-19 cases.

Sources:

  1. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/here-s-full-list-biden-s-executive-actions-so-far-n1255564
  2. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/here-s-full-list-donald-trump-s-executive-orders-n720796
  3. https://www.wsj.com/graphics/joe-biden-cabinet/
  4. https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2017/03/politics/travel-ban-supporters-cnnphotos/
  5. https://www.msnbc.com/opinion/muslims-me-know-evil-power-trump-s-dead-muslim-ban-n1255017
  6. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/09/us/politics/appeals-court-trump-travel-ban.html
  7. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/20/proclamation-ending-discriminatory-bans-on-entry-to-the-united-states/
  8. https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/americans-used-support-border-wall-what-changed-their-minds
  9. https://www.courthousenews.com/supreme-court-allows-construction-of-trumps-border-wall-to-continue/
  10. https://www.chicagotribune.com/nation-world/ct-trump-nieto-meeting-20170126-story.html
  11. https://www.politico.com/story/2019/01/25/trump-shutdown-announcement-1125529
  12. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/20/proclamation-termination-of-emergency-with-respect-to-southern-border-of-united-states-and-redirection-of-funds-diverted-to-border-wall-construction/
  13. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-environment/trump-touts-environment-record-green-groups-scoff-idUSKCN1U31RI
  14. https://thetyee.ca/News/2010/06/21/AlbertaToTexasPipeline/
  15. https://www.pri.org/stories/2015-02-19/native-american-tribes-unite-fight-keystone-pipeline-and-government-disrespect
  16. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-30103078
  17. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-54797743
  18. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/20/executive-order-protecting-public-health-and-environment-and-restoring-science-to-tackle-climate-crisis/
  19. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/01/20/paris-climate-agreement/
  20. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/20/executive-order-advancing-racial-equity-and-support-for-underserved-communities-through-the-federal-government/
  21. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/27/executive-order-on-presidents-council-of-advisors-on-science-and-technology/
  22. https://www.politico.com/news/2021/01/22/biden-treasury-unclaimed-stimulus-461466
  23. https://www.natlawreview.com/article/biden-administration-reinstates-covid-19-travel-restrictions-europe-and-brazil-adds
  24. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/01/22/fact-sheet-president-bidens-new-executive-actions-deliver-economic-relief-for-american-families-and-businesses-amid-the-covid-19-crises/
  25. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/21/executive-order-ensuring-an-equitable-pandemic-response-and-recovery/

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