Hours after his inauguration on Wednesday, United States President Joe Biden signed 17 executive orders as he moved swiftly to dismantle the policies put in place by his predecessor Donald Trump on immigration, climate change and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, reported Reuters.
“There’s no time to start like today,” Biden said in his first comments as president. “These are just all starting points.”
Notable among these, is a letter that Biden signed to re-enter the United States in the Paris climate accord, which it will officially rejoin 30 days from now. In 2019, Trump had announced that US would withdraw from the coalition of nearly 200 countries working to limit use of planet-warming fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.
The new president of the United States also halted the country’s departure from the World Health Organization, after the Trump administration chose to withdraw the nation’s membership and funding last year, reported CNN. America’s top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci will now lead the US delegation at the global health body.
On the pandemic front, Biden signed an executive order appointing Jeffrey D Zients as the official Covid-19 response coordinator who will report to the president, in an effort to “aggressively” gear up the nation’s response to Covid-19, reported The New York Times. The order also restores the directorate for global health security and bio-defence at the National Security Council, a group Trump had disbanded.
Among a raft of orders addressing immigration, Biden revoked Trump’s emergency declaration that helped fund the construction of a border wall. The order includes an “immediate termination” of the national emergency declaration that allowed the Trump administration to redirect money for building the wall. It said the administration will begin “a close review” of the legality of the effort, according to The New York Times.
Biden also ended a travel ban on some majority-Muslim countries. Biden directed the US State Department to restart visa processing for individuals from the affected countries, and to develop ways to address the harm caused to those who were prevented from coming to the United States due to the ban.
‘Just the start’
The president’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the “the Day One plans were just the start” of a flurry of executive actions Biden would take soon after entering office. “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,” Psaki added, according to Reuters.
Further actions would include revoking the ban on military service by transgender Americans, and reversing a policy that blocks US funding for programs overseas linked to abortion.
In his steps to revive America’s beleaguered economy, Biden asked the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to extend a moratorium on evictions until the end of March, and the Department of Education to suspend student loan payments until the end of September.
After months of high-decibel campaigning in an election that was marred with allegations of voter fraud, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took the oath of office on Wednesday at a Capitol still reeling from the attack of a violent mob by Trump supporters earlier this month.
“The will of the people has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded,” Biden said in his inaugural address. “We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed Biden’s decision to rejoin the Paris climate accord, but called on him to adopt an “ambitious” plan to fight global warming, reported AFP.
“I warmly welcome President Biden’s steps to re-enter the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and join the growing coalition of governments, cities, states, businesses and people taking ambitious action to confront the climate crisis,” Guterres said in a statement. “We look forward to the leadership of United States in accelerating global efforts towards net zero, including by bringing forward a new nationally determined contribution with ambitious 2030 targets and climate finance in advance of COP26 in Glasgow later this year.”
In a separate statement, Guterres also congratulated Washington for rejoining the World Health Organization as one of Biden’s first actions as president. Supporting the WHO is key to coordinating the global struggle against the Covid-19 pandemic, Guterres said.
French President Emmanuel Macron also lauded Biden’s decision to return to the Paris climate accord. He called the oath-taking of Harris and Biden “the most significant day for the American people”.
“We are together,” Macron wrote on Twitter. “We will be stronger to face the challenges of our time. Stronger to build our future. Stronger to protect our planet. Welcome back to the Paris Agreement!”