Yesterday was Joe Biden’s first official day as president of the United States. After his swearing-in, Biden made a moving speech that called for unity and bi-partisanship. The speech was written by Vinay Reddy, an advisor and now the chief speechwriter to the president. Reddy also served as chief speechwriter to Biden during his second term as the vice president during the Obama administration, from 2013 to 2017. Following the flurry of inaugural events, both traditional and ceremonial, President Biden made his way to the Resolute Desk, where he wasted no time signing a record-setting number of executive orders for his first day on the job, many of which are already under the scrutiny of his critics.
Yes, folks, that’s right — Joe Biden signed the most inaugural-day executive orders (15 executive orders and 2 agency actions) in the history of the United States yesterday. You will find a “controversy alert” on the orders that have seen the most backlash. There’s a lot to unpack — so much so that in Part 1, to prevent this from being the longest article ever, we could only cover the first SEVEN of Biden’s Day 1 orders, so get those reading glasses, maybe a beverage, and buckle up for the scoop – the good, bad, and otherwise – on every single one of them:
1) The President’s first act was to sign an executive order requiring all people to wear masks and maintain social distancing on federal property.
What does it mean?
Following the advice of select medical advisors, the president chose to enforce a mask mandate for federal property in the attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19. Some praise the choice as a decisive action against the virus, while others find the order a government overreach. President Biden kept his mask on during his time signing orders in the oval office, as reporters and aids followed suit. It is unclear whether or not the president’s mandate will remain in play for all of the west wing, as it seems unrealistic to expect the Biden family to wear masks when spending time in their residential suites. However, since the entire White House is technically federal property, the jokes have already started to fly, as well as the criticisms. Some people assert that Biden will face criminal charges should he violate his own executive order while on the property. It remains to be seen whether or not the Bidens will indeed be sleeping in their masks, but it’s safe to say the scenario is highly unlikely.
Unfortunately, President Biden was met with heavy criticism when he visited the Lincoln Memorial Wednesday evening and was subsequently photographed and also appeared on television without his mask, despite his newly signed mandate. Since the Lincoln Memorial is federal property, Biden’s choice to remove his mask at the memorial has been called out by many on social media and some media outlets. Twitter exploded with assertations of “hypocrisy.” To be clear, the president did appear to be socially distanced during his time without the mask, but this tidbit has done little to stop the backlash over his chosen violation of the order signed mere hours before.
2) President Biden signed an order to launch a “100 Days Masking Challenge.”
What does it mean?
Originally, President Biden asserted that he would set a national mask mandate on his first day in office. However, he rolled that position back, acknowledging that he did not have the authority to enforce state-by-state compliance. Instead, he opted for a softer approach. The order is designed to encourage Americans to wear masks in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. While the administration cannot mandate states to do the same, President Biden is asking Americans to follow suit and commit to wearing a mask for the next 100 days, called the “100 Days Masking Challenge.”
Obviously, the order has been met with mixed reactions. Some are all for it. Some, doubting the efficacy of mask wear, believe masks should be a personal choice. Others think masks should be reserved for symptomatic or high-risk citizens only. Still others believe the American people need hard evidence that mask wear slows the spread, as so far, nothing definitive has been released and multiple medical studies have drawn directly opposing conclusions.
3) Biden reversed Trump’s decision to remove the U.S. from the World Health Organization.
What does it mean?
Now that America will rejoin the WHO, Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert and medical advisor to President Trump, will lead the American delegation and America will resume providing the organization with billions in taxpayer-funded aid. President Trump withdrew from the WHO in response to questionable data concerning Covid-19 and what was then asserted as the organization’s slow response to the coronavirus. Trump issued the China travel ban within one day of the WHO’s declaration that the coronavirus would be a public health emergency of international concern, but many believed the declaration to be too late, which has been asserted as a direct reflection on the responsiveness of the WHO.
The WHO was also charged with finding the source of the virus in China, but many policymakers say little to no decisive efforts have been made by the organization to follow through on the investigation. Early on in the pandemic, in response to mounting financial concerns, Trump said his administration would look into reported inequalities and examine the taxpayer dollars allocated for the WHO. As such, it appears the organization’s response to the crisis shed light on an already shaky funding situation for the WHO. Before Trump pulled out, the WHO was funded in no small part by the United States (15% to 20% of its overall budget which equates to roughly 10 times that which is contributed by China).
Biden’s choice to rejoin the WHO was expected by many, particularly for its optics and implications on the stage of foreign diplomacy. However, the move has received mixed reactions in congress, as many congressional members assert reform within the organization is necessary before the United States resumes providing billions in taxpayer-funded aid. In the short term, for the average American, this could mean a rise in taxes – but that is speculative and remains to be seen.
4) Biden also signed an executive order to create a position called “COVID-19 response coordinator” and also restored the Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, which is a team in charge of the pandemic response as part of the National Security Council.
What does it mean?
Jeff Zients was appointed as the coordinator of Biden’s COVID-19 Task Force. Zients will oversee everything that is being done across the federal government to combat covid, including decisions making on travel restrictions and the vaccine supply chain. Zients has been charged with reducing disparities in the response and treatment of COVID-19, as well as those that might exist among varying racial and ethnic groups. His duties are also purportedly designed to help boost the production, supply, and distribution of PPE, vaccines, tests, and other supplies. Additionally, Zients will support the safe reopening of schools, child-care centers, and Head Start programs, in the hopes of regaining some continuity of education during the pandemic. The order also called on Elizabeth Cameron, the newly appointed Senior Director of Global Health Security and Biodefense, to oversee the Global Health Security Agenda Interagency Review Council and monitor current and emerging biological threats. Cameron will report directly to the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Jake Sullivan, as well as Zients with any matters relating to COVID-19. As an aside, Cameron held the same title under President Obama and also for a time under President Trump (You might remember that Cameron drew the ire of Tim Morrison, former senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense on the National Security Council, in a pandemic response WaPo opinion piece back in March). Finally, the order touched on the overall responsibility to identify, monitor, and, if necessary, respond to any emerging biological or pandemic threats.
It appears this order has been met with little to no criticism, yet. Obviously, as is true of all politics, nothing pleases everyone.
5) Biden extended eviction and foreclosure moratoriums. The moratorium will be extended until at least March 31.
What does it mean?
President Trump issued a moratorium on evictions (a lawful suspension of the payment of certain debts during a period of financial or civil distress) to combat some of the financial hardship associated with coronavirus. With so many Americans out of work, mass evictions became a threat, and to combat this, Trump put policies into place to thwart the threat. The Trump policy, which was issued by the Center for Disease Control, expired on December 31, 2020. Congress extended it for 1 month in the most recent stimulus bill. However, with his executive order, Biden revived the Trump policy and extended it until March 31 at the earliest.
The move has been praised by some and criticized by others. Those who support the effort believe it to be in the best interest of those who may be struggling financially as a result of the pandemic. Critics believe the order to be harmful and illegal. Some say it’s unfair to landlords and others say it’s likely to set a dangerous precedent—since the reasoning behind it could potentially allow the CDC and the White House to issue orders against almost any economic or social activity. In this way, both Trump and Biden have share common ground, as the choice proved controversial for both presidents.
6) Biden chose to extend the existing pause on student loan payments and interest for Americans with federal student loans until at least Sept. 30.
What does it mean?
In August, President Trump signed an executive order designed to “continue the temporary cessation of payments and the waiver of all interest on student loans held by the Department of Education,” oringally associaled with the CARES Act. His order expired on December 31st. President Biden elected to extend Trump’s order through at least the end of September. Brian Deese, the new director of the White House National Economic Council said, “These are emergency measures that will help to make sure that no American is put in the place of having to make the decision to pay their student loan payment or put food on the table in the short term and will help to provide some near-term relief.”
So far, this move has received little to no widespread criticism. However, some assert this move could become an overall student loan forgiveness plan, which has been a talking point among Dems. Critics of total loan forgiveness have been very outspoken in their opposition to the potential plan, because of what it would mean for taxpayers, as well as other issues pertaining to the public good.
7) President Biden signed an order that will allow the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Agreement, aka the Paris Climate Accord, within 30 days.
What does it mean?
The Paris Agreement is an international treaty adopted in December 2015 that aims to reduce the emission of gases that may contribute to climate change. The Paris Agreement was designed to replace the Kyoto Protocol, an earlier similar treaty designed to curb the release of greenhouse gases. It entered into force on November 4, 2016, and has been signed by 194 countries and ratified by 188 as of November 2020. With the world’s most successful economy in the forefront (more than $21 trillion in 2019), the Trump administration pulled out of the agreement as both an economic and energy independence measure. Trump officially withdrew the nation from the Paris Agreement on Nov. 4, 2020 because his administration took issue with the highly costly nature of the agreement and, according to the agreement’s critics, the fact that the agreement would purportedly do little to actually address climate change.
Critics of Biden’s choice to rejoin the Paris Agreement assert that the energy regulations agreed to in Paris Agreement would likely cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs in the field of manufacturing, and could potentially result in losses of $2.5 trillion in gross domestic product by the year 2035, citing that according to the United Nations, America doesn’t actually need to be part of the agreement to move toward emissions success. In fact, the U.N. Emissions Gap Report 2020 states “the United States of America emits 13% of global GHG emissions.” Comparatively, “China emits more than one-quarter of global GHG emissions.” However, the United States still contributes the most greenhouse gas emissions per capita globally — but, over the last ten years, the country’s emissions have been on the decline (0.4% per year).“ Greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the U.S. are falling, but those of China, India and Russia are still on the rise. Leading up to the agreement, participants called for the Green Climate Fund, which was slated to collect $100 billion per year by 2020. The goal of this fund was to subsidize green energy and pay for climate adaptation and mitigation programs for poorer countries, in order to get those poorer nations to opt into the final Paris Agreement. To wit, the Obama administration sent 1 billion taxpayer dollars to this fund, and received some backlash, because he did so without the authorization of Congress. Biden’s decision to re-up America’s commitment to the agreement will likely once again result in the allocation of taxpayer dollars to the funding of the effort, which has raised a number of concerns among policymakers.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2!
(We are considering a “video recap” project for these articles, to provide a “podcast” element that may be beneficial for some readers. If this is something you’d enjoy, please let us know!)