Biden’s Unprecedented First Week: 30 Executive Orders

Raymond Shu '22

Since his inauguration on January 20th, Biden has signed 31 executive orders and taken a myriad of other presidential actions [1]. This is the highest number of executive orders that a president has signed in the first month in office since FDR (who also signed 31) [2]. Many of these executive orders reflect the Biden administrations’ policies and future goals for the country, particularly to better coordinate the current COVID-19 relief efforts, combat the economic recession, and address issues such as climate change crisis, immigration, and discrimination.

First and foremost, many executive orders are aimed at combating the current COVID-19 pandemic, often directed at the executive branch of the federal government. EO13991, titled “Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing,” does as its name suggests: it mandates all those on federal property to wear masks and respect social distancing standards. Subsequent acts continue to centralize a federal COVID-19 response team, creating new advising positions which oversee the distribution of vaccines, support virus research, and enforce transparency in public information-sharing. Finally, EO13995, “Ensuring an Equitable Pandemic Response and Recovery,” relates to both social reform and pandemic response, as its newly established COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force within the Department of Health and Human Services will provide recommendations on proper allocation of resources in order to lessen health inequalities.

Biden also issued several targeting the safety of the public, such as within the workplace or in schools. EO13996 created the COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board which will coordinate testing efforts and “facilitate the provision of COVID-19 testing free of charge to those who lack comprehensive health insurance” [7]. EO13999, “Protecting Worker Health and Safety”, directs the Department of Labor to review the Occupational Safety and Health Act as well as revise and issue new guidance for employers to set in the workplace in order to promote the safety of their workers. Its preceding further cracks down on public health policies by requiring masks on many forms of public transportation such as planes, trains, ferries and buses. It also requires foreign travelers coming into the US to provide proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test. Finally, EO14000, “Supporting the Reopening and Continuing Operation of Schools and Early Childhood Education Providers”, directed the Secretary of Education to develop guidance for elementary and secondary schools “in deciding whether and how to reopen, and how to remain open, for in-person learning; and in safely conducting in-person learning” [8]. [1][3][4]

Regarding economic relief, Biden’s orders embody his goal to stimulate consumer spending while incorporating other key Democratic demands, such as raising the minimum wage. EO14002, “Economic Relief Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic”, vaguely states that all federal departments and agencies should “promptly identify actions they can take within existing authorities to address the current economic crisis resulting from the pandemic” [9]. More specifically, it stats that agencies should attempt to facilitate data better so that it doesn’t obstruct federal attempts to combat the pandemic. EO14003, “Protecting the Federal Workforce,” expands protections for federal workers; most notably, it requests the minimum wage of federal employees to be raised to $15 per hour. EO14005, “Ensuring the Future Is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers,” increases the amount of federal spending on American companies. [1][3][4] The Ridge Devil’s Advocate covers Biden’s of uplifting the nation from COVID-19 more extensively here.

Biden also issued several orders regarding the climate crisis, an issue long overdue for some attention. EO14008, “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad,” also lists several key resolutions. Firstly and symbolically, it places climate change as a major consideration for US national security and foreign policy. Secondly, it establishes the National Climate Task Force, whose mission is to “facilitate planning and implementation of key Federal actions to reduce climate pollution” [10]. It will work to lessen the impacts of climate change, protect public health, and conserve America’s lands, waters, oceans, and biodiversity. A related order is aimed at cutting back on fossil fuel efforts: most notably, it revokes the permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, a 1,200 mile pipeline system connecting the US and Canada that cut through indigenous lands. Furthermore, it halts oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Biden also, via EO14007, rechartered the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) which will “advise the President on matters involving policy affecting science, technology, and innovation” [11]. Finally, though not an Executive Order, Biden also rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, from which the US had previously withdrawn. [1][3][4]

Another key focus of the new administration revolves around immigration. Specifically a multitude of new executive orders revoke previous ones issued by former President Trump. EO13993, “Revision of Civil Immigration Enforcement Policies and Priorities”, undoes a previous executive order that terminated federal funding to sanctuary jurisdictionsーcities, towns, or counties that have enacted policies which limit local officials’ ability to enforce federal immigration law [12]. This will help those areas provide for refugees without being penalized by law. Biden also issued the “Proclamation on Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to The United States”, which revokes the Executive Orders that instituted the “Muslim ban”ーrestrictions on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries attempting to enter the US. He also issued another proclamation ending the construction of the border wall and established a task force to reunite families formerly separated at the United States-Mexico border [13].

More general immigration-related improvements include EO13986, which requires all residents of a state, regardless of immigration status, to be counted in the census. In EO14010, Biden called for his administration to identify irregular migration with North and Central America, and combat the causes of these migrations such as corruption, violence, and human rights abuse [15]. Finally, EO14012 requires the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security to identify barriers and agency actions that limit and/or fail to promote access to immigration benefits. It also seeks to improve the naturalization process by reducing the barriers and time needed for it. [1][3][4]

Finally, several executive orders fight to promote equity and denounce discrimination. EO13988 enforces protections against sex discrimination within the federal government, and a sister action revokes the Pentagon’s ban denying transgenders from serving in the military. In response to recent outcries over the racial poverty, EO13985, called for the fair allocation of resources to communities that have been “historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality” [16]. It also demands federal agencies to conduct equity assessments. Finally, the last reform-related order turns to the justice system: EO14006 prevents the Justice Department from renewing contracts with private prisons (which would prevent these prisons from profiting as more people are sent to jail). [1][3][4]

While these Executive Orders do indeed reflect the Biden administration’s policies and the goals that they were campaigning for back in November, their effectiveness is still yet to be determined. Nevertheless, the decline of COVID-19 cases [17] may indicate that the Biden administration will be able to effectively combat the pandemic, though America will have to see in the months to come.