Biden Takes Action on Covid-19, Climate in Busy First Day

The 46th president of the United States got right to work Wednesday afternoon.

President Joe Biden speaks during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Almost directly after taking the oath of office, President Joe Biden reversed several of his predecessor’s policies and federal agency standards, signing a combination of executive orders, memoranda and other directives to address of the Covid-19 pandemic, delay drastic climate change and advance racial equality.

In his first act as president, Biden rejoined the Paris climate accord. The U.S.’s renewed commitment will become official 30 days after the United Nations receives word.

The president also halted the U.S. withdrawal from the World Health Organization set into motion by former President Donald Trump — critical for international response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will head the U.S. delegation to the World Health Organization’s executive board meetings this week and deliver remarks to that board Thursday. 

Biden doubled-down on his campaign commitment to wear a mask for the first 100 days of his presidency. In an executive order, the president will require masks and physical distancing on federal lands and buildings and by all federal employees. 

Reversing a number of other Trump-era policies, Biden placed a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leases at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments and Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and revoked the presidential permit granted for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline

The various incarnations of what Trump first called a “Muslim ban” was another policy to be immediately revoked by Biden on Wednesday through executive action. In its ultimate form following court challenges, the ban restricted U.S. entry for citizens of “high-risk” countries, mostly Muslim-majority or African nations.

More directly addressing racial divisions in the country, Biden signed an executive order defining equity and directing every federal agency to review the state of equity within their office and deliver a plan within 200 days to change any unequal barriers.

Trump’s 1776 Commission — a group tasked with refuting America’s history of racial injustices through a patriotic education — also was rescinded on Wednesday. The group released a report of the nation’s interactions with fascism, communism and slavery Monday, although some materials appear to be copied completely verbatim from other publications.

Another executive order will rescind a Trump policy restricting diversity and inclusion training.

Biden halted the emergency declaration by Trump this past February to fund border-wall construction by diverting nearly $8 billion from a number of different funds including the military construction fund, a Treasury forfeiture fund and the Department of Defense’ counter-drug program.

The termination of construction also will allow a review of the legality of that funding, along with determining the best redirection of that redirected money. Undocumented immigrants also will be counted in the Census Bureau’s reapportionment count, under another executive order.

If Trump had succeeded in excluding this population from the count — delays kept it from coming to fruition — several Democratic states with big immigrant populations could have seen decreases in their representation in Congress and their funding.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the rollback of which the U.S. Supreme Court prevented this June, will be preserved and fortified under the Biden administration. The president signed a presidential memorandum directing the Homeland Security secretary to work alongside the attorney general to achieve that goal, the release states. The memorandum will also task Congress with creating a permanent path to citizenship.

Biden also continued the pause on student-loan repayments and restore the eviction and foreclosure moratorium, asked the U.S. Department of the Interior to redesignate critical habitat for the endangered spotted owl, and review household appliance, incandescent lamp and other residential energy standards.

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