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'We're not going to wait': Biden admin to take immediate action to undo Trump policies

Shannon Pettypiece and Amanda Golden and Marianna Sotomayor
·5 min read
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden spent his first hours as president undoing many of the hallmarks of former President Donald Trump's tenure and allowing Biden to begin his own path on how the U.S. will respond to multiple national crises.

Biden signed more than a dozen executive actions Wednesday in the Oval Office just hours after arriving at the White House after having been sworn in as the 46th president, including measures to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, repeal Trump's restrictions on travel from several Muslim-majority countries, stop construction of the Southern border wall and mandate the wearing of masks on federal property.

He also used his first day in office to propose a sweeping immigration reform bill, a lofty legislative task his administration has decided to take on from the start.

Wednesday night, Acting Homeland Security Secretary David Pekoske signed a memo directing that deportations that had been ordered be paused for 100 days. There are exceptions to the pause, which starts Friday.

The wide-ranging moves set the tone for an administration that has said it will waste no time rolling back as many Trump administration actions as it can and push through the policy initiatives Biden pledged to tackle on the campaign trail. Incoming administration officials said Biden will issue additional executive orders and actions soon.

"We're not going to wait weeks. We're going to come in and hit the ground running," senior adviser Cedric Richmond, the incoming director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, said in an interview. "I think that that is the most important part, to show the American people that we're serious about governing."

The Trump administration relied heavily on executive orders and memorandums to push through its policy agenda after it struggled to get legislation passed in Congress. In bypassing the legislative branch, Trump made it easier for his successor to undo the actions with the sweep of a pen, as Biden will do Wednesday.

Biden's executive order on masks requires employees and contractors to wear face coverings in all federal buildings and on federal land — a departure from Trump's White House, where masks were rarities. Biden is asking all Americans to wear masks for his first 100 days.

Biden also moved Wednesday to stop the Trump administration's withdrawal from the World Health Organization, which Biden administration officials say is vital for the global response to the pandemic.

"The pandemic will continue to get worse before it gets better," Jeffrey Zients, who will be Biden's coordinator of the Covid-19 response, said in a conference call with reporters. "This is clearly a national emergency, and we will treat it as such."

On the economic front, Biden asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to extend the federal moratorium on evictions until at least the end of March. He also asked the Education Department to extend the pause on interest and principal payments on direct federal loans until at least the end of September.

Biden took action to halt construction on a border wall, which Trump has cited as one of his main accomplishments. He issued a proclamation Wednesday terminating the national emergency declaration that Trump used to divert money to wall construction.

Biden also began to reverse the Trump administration's steps to roll back environmental regulations. Biden directed agencies to consider revising fuel economy and emissions standards and to revoke the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Biden also hit on racial inequality. He directed federal agencies to review "the state of equity" in their agencies and deliver plans "to address unequal barriers to opportunity in agency policies and programs," according to a fact sheet detailing the executive actions.

He also tasked the Office of Management and Budget to more equitably allocate federal resources to "empower and invest in communities of color and other underserved communities," the fact sheet says.

On immigration, Biden introduced legislation to Congress that would offer legal status and a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented people, fund border security measures other than a wall and provide money and assistance to countries with high numbers of immigrants to address the root cause of migration, incoming administration officials said.

Shortly after leaving office, Stephen Miller, Trump's senior adviser and architect of his immigration policies, tweeted out criticism of Biden's first moves that was filled with falsehoods.

"It’s unclear how all Americans are served by opening travel from terror hot spots, proposing a giant amnesty, or halting the installation of security barriers along the Southwest border," he wrote.

Biden's campaign and transition team have been working with Democrats in the House and the Senate on the legislation.

The bill would allow undocumented people to apply for temporary legal status, with the opportunity to apply for green cards after five years if they pass criminal and national security background checks and pay their taxes, a Biden administration official said. After three years, those holding green cards who pass additional background checks would be able to apply to be citizens. The policy would apply only to those in the U.S. at the start of this year.

Rather than further Trump's construction of a border wall, the bill would provide funding for new technology to secure the border and more funding and training for border agents. The bill would also increase foreign assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, conditioned on their ability to reduce corruption, violence and poverty that cause people to flee their home countries, the officials said.

It's a challenging place to begin legislatively. Three of Biden's predecessors — George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Trump — tried and failed to get through major immigration reform. Progressives have been pushing Biden to take swift action on immigration, but he will face strong resistance from Republicans in Congress.

Biden administration officials said the Day One moves are just the start. Additional actions to come include reversing Trump's ban on transgender service members and undoing U.S. policy that blocks funding to foreign nongovernmental organizations that provide abortion-related services.

"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," press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. "In the coming days and weeks we will be announcing additional executive actions that confront these challenges and deliver on the President-elect's promises to the American people."