President-elect Joe Biden is reportedly working on a group of executive orders that would reverse several controversial Trump administration policies once he takes office on January 20.
According to a Washington Post report, Biden plans to take immediate action on policies pertaining to climate change, immigration, and public health. On all three counts, the president-elect would effectively implement policies that are the opposites of President Donald Trump’s.
As the country continues to struggle with record daily Covid-19 cases amid the pandemic, Biden plans to swiftly reverse Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization. The order would allow for greater pandemic cooperation and coordination with international partners, while also providing a check on China’s influence on the group.
Battling the pandemic will likely be the president-elect’s first priority, and he’s already forming a coronavirus task force, headed by former surgeon general Vivek Murthy; David Kessler, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner; and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Yale University. The group is set to start meeting Monday.
Biden also plans to immediately rejoin the Paris climate accords, and to seek to push other countries into lowering their emissions. He’d pledged to do so on the campaign trail, and has reiterated a commitment to that promise. The expectation of a coming order was welcomed yesterday by the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, who said, “Welcome back America!” in a tweet.
Welcome back America! Congratulations to @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris for their election! While we are about to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement, this victory symbolizes our need to act together more than ever, in view of climate emergency. #Election2020— Anne Hidalgo (@Anne_Hidalgo) November 7, 2020
On immigration, Biden will reportedly repeal the travel ban that includes many Muslim countries and reinstate the “DREAMers” program, which allowed children of undocumented immigrants to remain in the country.
He’s also planning on reinstating dozens of environmental and business-related regulations undone by Trump and company. Biden ran on a “return to normal” platform, and normal seemingly means unraveling the Trump agenda, alongside rebuilding trust in America’s institutions.
Several of Biden’s earliest executive actions will similarly fulfill long-held campaign promises. Biden has also promised to repeal the transgender military ban on the first day of his presidency. LGBTQ activists are expecting Biden to follow through on his promise to undo all of Trump’s anti-trans policies from the last four years.
During his victory speech last night, many activists noted that Biden referenced trans people specifically, a first for a president-elect during an acceptance speech.
Without the Senate, Biden will depend on executive action
Biden’s executive orders are likely to take center stage if Democrats fail to sweep two Senate run-offs in Georgia in early January that will likely determine which party controls the chamber. With Republicans appearing likely to win the outstanding Senate races in Alaska and North Carolina, Democratic wins in Georgia would give each party 50 senators, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the tiebreaking vote.
Even if Democrats have a majority in the upper chamber, however, they may find their agenda stunted by Sen. Mitch McConnell, who as minority leader managed to derail Obama administration initiatives. Should McConnell take a similar approach, Biden will likely see little progress on any sort of legislative agenda.
That would probably mean campaign promises like repealing the Trump tax cuts of 2017 or passing voting reform or the LGBTQ Equality Act would be off the table for Biden, making executive action the most direct and effective way for Democrats to enact at least some pieces of their agenda.
Biden has faced an uncooperative Republican Party before. He has touted his work as vice president to find common ground with Republicans. However, former President Barack Obama was ultimately similarly pushed to govern by executive action, a strategy that was often met with outsize conservative reactions accusing the president of being a dictator.
Trump’s executive agenda went several steps further than Obama’s, and faced no such criticism from conservative lawmakers. Trump also sidestepped the Senate confirmation process for key administration officials, and instead named “acting” heads of agencies, who could operate outside the normal Senate approval process. Those Trump actions were also met with silence from his Republican colleagues.
Biden may have to resort to the same extreme as Trump in naming “acting” heads of agencies, if his picks for those positions are rejected by the Senate. The Post reports some members of his team are considering doing so — and in a few months, it will become clear whether he will indeed take that route.