WASHINGTON. — US President Joe Biden signed 15 executive actions shortly after being sworn on Wednesday, undoing policies put in place by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, and making his first moves on the pandemic and climate change.
Biden will also launch an array of initiatives on Thursday to rein in the raging coronavirus pandemic, tackling his top priority on his first full day in the White House as he tries to turn the page on Donald Trump’s tumultuous leadership.
Additionally, Biden will issue a directive on Thursday including the intent to join the COVAX vaccine facility that aims to deliver vaccines to poor countries, his chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, told the World Health Organization.
Biden was sworn in as president on Wednesday, offering a message of unity and restoration to a deeply divided country reeling from a battered economy and a raging coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans.
Standing on the steps of the US Capitol two weeks after a mob of then-President Trump’s supporters stormed the building, Biden called for a return to civic decency in an inaugural address marking the end of Trump’s tempestuous four-year term.
“To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America, requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: unity,” Biden, a Democrat, said after taking the oath of office.
He also said overcoming the challenges facing the country would require a return to civility.
“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this – if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts,” he said.
Signing several actions in front of reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon, Biden said there was “no time to waste” in issuing the executive orders, memorandums and directives.
“Some of the executive actions I’m going to be signing today are going to help change the course of the COVID crisis, we’re going to combat climate change in a way that we haven’t done so far and advance racial equity and support other underserved communities,” said Biden. “These are just all starting points.”
Aides said the actions the Democratic president signed included a mask mandate on federal property and for federal employees, an order to establish a new White House office coordinating the response to the coronavirus, and halting the process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization.
Biden signed a document to begin the process of re-entering the Paris climate accord and issued a sweeping order tackling climate change, including revoking the presidential permit granted to the contentious Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Among a raft of orders addressing immigration, Biden revoked Trump’s emergency declaration that helped fund the construction of a border wall and ended a travel ban on some majority-Muslim countries.
The Day One plans were just the start of a flurry of executive actions Biden would take soon after entering office, said his press secretary, Jen Psaki.
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.
On the economic front, 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.
On Thursday, Biden will sign 10 executive orders to fight the pandemic, including ordering the use of disaster funds to help re-open schools and mandating the wearing of protective masks on planes and buses, officials said.
The new Democratic president, who took the oath of office on Wednesday, has put the pandemic at the top of a daunting list of challenges he faces in his administration’s early days, including rebuilding a ravaged economy and addressing racial injustice.
He also plans to sign orders to establish a COVID-19 testing board to ramp up testing, address supply shortfalls, establish protocols for international travelers and direct resources to hard-hit minority communities. Coronavirus has killed more than 400,000 people in the United States.
Biden has pledged to provide 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine during the first 100 days of his administration. His plan aims to increase vaccinations by opening up eligibility for more people such as teachers and grocery clerks.
Biden’s early initiatives could become bogged down in Congress, where the US Senate is considering how to proceed with the impeachment trial of Trump. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives impeached Trump last week for inciting an insurrection in the deadly rampage at the Capitol.
Biden told reporters in the Oval Office that Trump had left him “a very generous letter,” but he would not disclose its contents.
The inauguration itself, one unlike any other in US history, served as a stark reminder of both the tumult that defined the Trump era as well as the pandemic that still threatens the country.
Amid warnings of possible renewed violence, thousands of armed National Guard troops circled the Capitol in an unprecedented show of force. The National Mall, typically packed with throngs of supporters, instead was filled with nearly 200,000 US flags. Attending dignitaries – including former US Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton – wore masks and sat several feet apart.
Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, became the first Black person, first woman and first Asian American to serve as vice president after she was sworn in by US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Latina member.
The president spoke forcefully about the Jan. 6 Capitol siege when Trump backers breached the building, sending lawmakers fleeing for safety and leaving five dead, including a police officer. But Biden never mentioned his predecessor by name.