In the first week of his term, President Biden signed a slew of executive orders, which mainly served to aid in the fight against the coronavirus and undo some of President Trump’s most easily reversed policies. Executive orders are directives issued by a president which shape the way the American government functions that can be approved without the consent of Congress.
On his very first day in power, Joe Biden arrived in the Oval Office with seventeen executive orders ready to sign on his desk. This included an order to halt the construction of Trump’s expensive and deeply misguided border wall. A second undid Trump’s “Muslim ban” which, by the end of his presidency, restricted access to the United States to citizens of twelve countries, including Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia. Two further orders brought the US back into the World Health Organization and initiated the process for rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, respectively. The push for sustainability also involved the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would have transported Albertan varieties of heavy crude, which have three times the carbon footprint of lighter oils, directly from tar sands in Canada to the US.
Biden abolished the 1776 Commission, a Trump Administration project to spite Nikole Hannah-Jones and her 1619 Project, which documents the far-reaching effects that slavery and institutional racism have on America, and which had just released a roundly derided white-washed version of the America’s founding. He also fortified DACA, which protects from deportation undocumented people who were brought into the U.S. as children and allows them to work in the country. Finally, he made sure that undocumented people would be counted in the Census, a long-standing policy that Trump had sought to end.
On the Coronavirus front, the new president spread his efforts across three days. First, he extended the national moratorium on evictions until March 31, and mandated the wearing of masks on federal property. Then, on January 21, Biden signed eleven more orders concerning the Coronavirus. These made wearing a mask compulsory in airports and on certain trains and buses, established the Pandemic Testing Board, and created a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, among other things.
The next day, Biden reinstated certain COVID-era travel restrictions (on the UK, Ireland, South Africa, and the Schengen Area). Also notable that day were orders to reverse Trump’s ban on transgender people joining the military, and to restore the collective bargaining rights of federal workers. He also designated climate change as a national security and foreign policy threat and directed the Attorney General’s office to let all federal contracts with private prisons lapse.
These directives range in topic and ambition, but they seem all to share one characteristic: popularity with the American people. According to FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of polls by Morning Consult and Ipsos on 14 of the executive orders, all of them are viewed more favourably than unfavourably, and all but two of them enjoy majority support. Though these issues are popular among the American people, if Republican lawmakers remain united behind Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the self-proclaimed “grim reaper” of the Senate, and continue to operate as an obstructionist party, President Biden has little hope of passing anything through Congress with the broad support) that is required (three-fifths majority) to override an inevitable Republican filibuster. Assuming that Senate Democrats decline to end the filibuster altogether, which would lower the minimum floor of support to pass bills to a simple majority, something that Biden himself has resisted, his only other option for legislative action is the Budget Reconciliation process. Currently, bills passed through this process must have to relate to spending, revenues, and the debt, and must have relatively narrow scopes. Just as with President Trump, the easiest way for Biden to carry out his agenda is through executive orders.