President Biden Signs Executive Orders on Face Mask Mandate, Keystone Pipeline, Paris Accord
WASHINGTON—President Biden on his first day in office took a range of executive actions, including implementing a national mask mandate on federal property, revoking a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline and reversing a travel ban from several largely Muslim and African countries, officials said.
Coming after Mr. Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president in a midday ceremony, the actions are intended to signal a more aggressive approach to the coronavirus pandemic and end some of President Trump’s key policies while setting the agenda for the next four years.
Mr. Biden signed executive orders from the Oval Office in the late afternoon.
“I thought there’s no time to wait. Get to work immediately,” he told reporters, sitting at the Resolute Desk and wearing a mask.
Mr. Biden signed 15 executive orders on his first day in office, far more than any of his modern predecessors, none of whom signed more than one. President Trump signed an order on his inauguration day aimed at reversing the Affordable Care Act, while Barack Obama didn’t sign any on Jan. 20, 2009. Bill Clinton signed an ethics order on his first day. All of them signed additional orders during their first week in office.
Mr. Biden’s orders cover domestic and international matters, including ceasing Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization and rejoining the Paris climate accord. “These are two early steps to advance the president’s ambition to re-engage in the world,” said incoming national-security adviser Jake Sullivan.
Rejoining the Paris pact would be only a first step in Mr. Biden’s broad effort to elevate climate change to a crisis among his administration’s top priorities. He is ordering executive agencies to review 103 Trump-era actions on the environment and public health, a potential wholesale reversal of Mr. Trump’s effort to deregulate in ways that helped fossil-fuel companies and other sectors of heavy industry.
The Biden effort will target makers of autos and appliances with more-stringent efficiency requirements and oil-and-gas companies with new restrictions on their access to federal monuments and wildlife preserves. Mr. Biden’s orders will direct the agencies that review these policies to focus on better protecting consumers and boosting union employment, in addition to addressing climate change.
Mr. Biden’s “policies from day one hurt American workers and our economy,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R., W.Va.). “Killing the Keystone XL pipeline and rejoining the Paris agreement will eliminate good-paying jobs.”
The House Republican Conference said, “The Biden administration has made it clear that on Day One they will immediately cater to the far left instead of working to help all Americans and move our country forward.”
But Mr. Biden, who campaigned as a centrist and issued a call Wednesday for national unity, is already facing pressure from the liberal wing of his party to take more dramatic action on numerous issues, including the cost of college and health care and the environment. “There are places where executive power is questionable for me to exercise it,” he said during a December conversation with opinion columnists.
Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) said he welcomed working with Mr. Biden on areas of agreement. “When we disagree, I will do so respectfully. Public service is a noble calling, and anyone who serves deserves the respect of the American people, regardless of political affiliation,” he said.
The pandemic is the most urgent concern facing Mr. Biden and his team; on the eve of his taking office, U.S. deaths reached 400,000. The 100-day mask mandate applies on federal property and on airlines, trains and transit systems traveling between states, though Mr. Biden will direct the government to work with state and local authorities on similar steps.
Another executive order Wednesday creates an office of White House Covid-19 response, headed by Jeffrey Zients, Mr. Biden’s coronavirus czar, which will work with federal agencies and report directly to the president. Goals include securing more protective equipment for workers, increasing testing and vaccinations and reopening schools.
Mr. Biden also called for extending the federal eviction moratorium until at least March 31 and the pause on interest and principal payments for direct federal loans until at least Sept. 30.
Broader action to speed up vaccine distribution and help the economy, including additional direct payments to many Americans, will require congressional approval—and Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief proposal has already drawn objections from some Republicans as too broad and expensive.
The so-called Muslim ban was one of Mr. Trump’s earliest actions, and Mr. Biden campaigned on ending it. He will direct the State Department to restart visa processing for affected countries and to quickly address cases of people stuck in a waiver process or denied visas.
Mr. Trump said the ban, which he campaigned on, was needed to protect against a terror risk.
Also on immigration, Mr. Biden stopped construction of the wall along the border with Mexico, one of Mr. Trump’s signature policies, deeming it a waste of money, though the portion that has been completed will remain standing. He will terminate a national emergency declaration used to divert money intended for other purposes to the wall. Mr. Biden will also shore up the Obama-era program that shielded younger undocumented immigrants from deportation.
He extended protections against deportation for Liberians in the U.S., according to officials, and reversed Mr. Trump’s plan to exclude noncitizens from the census count used to apportion Congressional representatives.
Mr. Biden formally called on Congress to take up a broader immigration bill that includes an eight-year path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants in the U.S. who lack permanent legal status. Such sweeping proposals have stymied past presidents, and the plan would face steep odds in the closely divided Congress.
Addressing racial equality is another early focus of Mr. Biden. On Wednesday he signed an executive order directing federal agencies to deliver plans to address barriers to advancement as well as mandating the Office of Management and Budget to more equitably allocate federal resources to communities of color. The specific language of that directive—or others Mr. Biden will sign—wasn’t made available in advance.
“Additional actions in the coming weeks will restore and reinvigorate the federal government’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility,” Mr. Biden’s team said. Those include revoking a ban on transgender service members and reversing the so-called Mexico City policy, which mandates that foreign nongovernmental groups can’t provide abortions if they get U.S. funding.