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21 January 2021

How Joe Biden’s executive orders are reversing Donald Trump’s legacy

The new US president has had a prolific first day in office.  

By Freddie Hayward

On his first day in office, US President Joe Biden repudiated the key policies of Trumpism through 17 executive orders, proclamations and memorandums. Through these, he sought to reject isolationism and direct the administration towards racial equality, the environment and a less aggressive immigration policy.

Every president since George Washington has issued executive orders in their capacity as chief of the executive branch. Executive orders do not require the approval of Congress, and while they are mostly designed to direct federal policy, they can also be used to sway the political environment – as Barack Obama sought to do when he raised the minimum wage for federal workers in 2014.

Biden was more prolific than most, however, on his first day in the job. Donald Trump signed only one executive order, which addressed the Affordable Care Act, while Obama waited until the day after his inauguration to sign two. It took George W Bush until 29 January before signing his first.

[See also: Joe Biden’s inauguration speech was the angriest ever, according to sentiment analysis]

The new president faces vast challenges domestically, not least unifying a divided nation  but he still found time for international affairs. In a letter to the UN secretary general, Biden retracted Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organisation, asserting that the organisation “plays a crucial role” in fighting the pandemic. He also recommitted the US to the Paris Climate Agreement, which will be reassuring to the UK government who are hosting a successor to the Paris conference in November.

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In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, racial equity is another issue at the forefront of the Biden administration’s focus. The president has declared that addressing inequity between different demographics will be a theme of his first budget and he has ordered a review into whether certain demographics face “systemic barriers” in accessing federal services.

[See also: Why Boris Johnson’s Conservatives will struggle to adapt to the Biden era]

To achieve these objectives, Biden has had to overturn a number of Trump’s executive orders, including Executive Order 13950, which effectively banned workplace inclusivity training that “promoted race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating”. The president also reaffirmed his commitment to transgender issues, noting that “transgender black Americans face unconscionably high levels of workplace discrimination, homelessness, and violence, including fatal violence”.

Regarding Covid, Biden has created a new Covid-19 Response Coordinator, Jeff Zients, who will be based in the White House and will oversee the production of PPE, vaccine distribution and the eventual re-opening of schools. Biden also re-established the Directorate on Global Health Security and Biodefense which Trump disbanded, as well as mandating masks and social distancing throughout the federal government.

In a symbolic end to the Trump era, funding for the wall on the border with Mexico has now been halted.

[See also: Joe Biden calls for unity in inaugural address]