Acton Institute Powerblog

Here are all the executive orders Joe Biden signed on his first day in office

President Joe Biden signs executive order on Covid-19 during his first minutes in the Oval Office. (AP Photo: Europa Press.)

Newly inaugurated President Joe Biden has already made history, not merely as the oldest president ever to hold office, but by signing an unprecedented number of executive orders on his first day in office. These federal mandates include a mask mandate, threatening the conscience rights of Christian healthcare providers, rejoining an unratified environmental treaty, reversing Trump’s deregulatory policy, ending the Keystone XL pipeline, replacing racial equality with “equity,” reinstituting critical theory in federal diversity training, suspending construction of the border wall, and increasing the level of government dependence.

On Wednesday afternoon, President Biden issued a record-breaking 17 executive diktats, including executive orders and executive actions. No other president signed more than one executive order on the day of his inauguration; Barack Obama signed none.

In order of public release, they are:

1. Freezing President Donald Trump’s pending regulations. In a memorandum written by Chief of Staff Ron Klain, Biden instituted a review of any pending regulation issued by the Trump administration.

2. Rejoining the Paris climate agreement. As the first act he personally undertook in office, Joe Biden signed an executive order rejoining the Paris Agreement, which presents both a constitutional and economic challenge. President Barack Obama signed the agreement in September 2016, and President Donald Trump initiated its three-year withdrawal process in 2017. However, neither submitted the climate accord – which is a treaty – to the U.S. Senate for ratification (or defeat), as required by the Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. Now with the stroke of a pen, Biden has committed the United States to follow “every article and clause thereof.”

The Paris Agreement progressively throttles down each country’s permissible level of carbon emissions, known as the Nationally Determined Contributions, undermining U.S. energy independence and economic growth. A 2016 study by David Kreutzer and a team of economists at the Heritage Foundation found that the climate change agreement would cost 400,000 U.S. jobs, $2.5 trillion in U.S. GDP, and $20,000 in income for a family of four by 2035. The Paris Protocol would also raise household electric bills by 20%, something Obama candidly acknowledged as a consequence of the Obama-Biden energy policy in 2008. European political leaders have said U.S. withdrawal so bolsters the U.S. economy that it creates a “market distortion” in favor of American industries. Rejoining the agreement levels the playing field downward.

3. Reinstituting critical theory and replacing equality with equity. Biden signed an executive order channeling the power of the federal government into “Advancing Racial Equity.” Although the order states that “[e]qual opportunity is the bedrock of American democracy,” the order replaces equality with equity, a term that advocates of critical theory say demands reverse discrimination and government economic programs to benefit minorities. Biden promises to deliver an “ambitious whole-of-government equity agenda” to fight “systemic racism.”

The EO asks the government to investigate “potential barriers that underserved communities and individuals may face to enrollment in and access to benefits and services in Federal programs.” Although doing so would certainly increase government dependence, it is not clear any structural barrier exists. Although black, non-Hispanics make up 13.4% of the U.S. population, they “had a SNAP participation rate of 29.1 percent,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Generally, higher welfare usage has correlated with greater family breakdown.

Biden’s order asks the federal government to open “contracting opportunities” and to begin “allocating Federal resources in a manner that increases investment in underserved communities, as well as individuals from those communities.” It also gives self-appointed leaders of minority communities influence over policy, as it decrees that “agencies shall consult with members of communities that have been historically underrepresented in the Federal Government.” However, Biden’s vow to “remove systemic barriers to and provide equal access to opportunities” for “underserved communities” is at odds with his campaign pledge to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which hurts minorities, women, and young people the most.

The order reintroduces racially divisive training sessions in the federal workforce by rescinding President Trump’s executive  order on “Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping” (Executive Order 13950), which banned the use of critical theory in diversity training and barred federal trainers from “assigning fault, blame, or bias to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex.” Biden’s order also ends the President’s Advisory 1776 Commission, which was established by “to better enable a rising generation to understand the history and principles of the founding of the United States.”

4. Reversing President Trump’s anti-terrorist travel ban. Biden’s “Proclamation on Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to The United States” executive order says the so-called “Muslim Travel Ban” violated U.S. values and “undermined our national security.” The ban, which focused on terrorism, never applied to all Muslims. (There are precious few Muslims in, e.g., North Korea and Venezuela, which were covered by the order.) Biden’s reversal begins with the welcome acknowledgement that “[t]he United States was built on a foundation of religious freedom and tolerance, a principle enshrined in the United States Constitution.” He then orders the State Department to begin “clearing the backlog” of visa applications from nations on the list.

5. A limited mask mandate. Biden will require masks to be worn by federal workers, contractors, “and other individuals in Federal buildings and on Federal lands.” The efficacy of mandatory mask-wearing outdoors is dubious, as the Cleveland Clinic notes, “If have the option of maintaining a safe distance from anyone you encounter, then a mask likely isn’t necessary.” Biden’s EO also expedites the testing of federal workers.

6. Establishing a COVID-19 Czar and “strengthening the World Health Organization.” Biden’s executive order establishes a new position of “Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and Counselor to the President.” The EO tasks the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs for COVID-19 with “engaging with and strengthening the World Health Organization,” although WHO effectively parroted Chinese misinformation about the coronavirus, including the assertion that there was “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.” The order also reestablishes the National Security Council Directorate on Global Health Security and Biodefense, which President Trump merged into other units of the NSC in 2018.

7. Deprioritizing U.S. victims of criminal aliens. Biden issued an executive order to “reset the policies and practices for enforcing civil immigration laws” away from compliance with the law and toward what he deems a “humanitarian” policy on the border. The EO revokes President Trump’s 2017 executive order on “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” (Executive Order 13768), which prioritized deporting criminal aliens, attempted to defund sanctuary cities, published a full report documenting all crimes committed by illegal aliens against U.S. citizens, and established the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) to serve and “support victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens.” Last April, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld lower court rulings striking down Section 9(a) of Trump’s executive order, which halts funding for sanctuary jurisdictions “that willfully refuse to comply” with U.S. immigration law.

8. Supercharging federal regulatory power. No aspect of Biden’s reversal of Trump policy is more pronounced than abandoning four years of lighter regulation by unelected bureaucrats. Trump viewed them as a bane; Biden sees them as a boon. “[E]xecutive departments and agencies (agencies) must be equipped with the flexibility to use robust regulatory action to address national priorities,” Biden writes in a new executive order. “This order revokes harmful policies and directives that threaten to frustrate the Federal Government’s ability to confront these problems.” Biden’s EO repeals multiple Trump executive orders, including:

  • Executive Order 13771, which established a “One-in, Two-out” rule that says for every new regulation on the books, officials must repeal two. It also limited the total incremental cost of federal regulations;
  • Executive Order 13777, which created Regulatory Reform Officers in multiple federal agencies to identify “outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective” regulations that “eliminate jobs,” “inhibit job creation,” or “impose costs that exceed benefit”;
  • Executive Order 13875, which stated that the “[g]overnment-wide combined total number of eligible committees … shall not exceed 350,” except for merit review panels and scientific committees to evaluate the safety of products sold to American consumers;
  • Executive Order 13891, written to “ensure that Americans are subject to only those binding rules imposed through duly enacted statutes or through regulations lawfully promulgated under them.” Specifically, the EO requires federal agencies to treat guidance documents, which are exempt from public notice-and-comment requirements, as non-binding;
  • Executive Order 13892, which limited the government’s ability to charge private citizens with violating opaque federal rules which they may never have known existed. “No person should be subjected to a civil administrative enforcement action or adjudication absent prior public notice of both the enforcing agency’s jurisdiction over particular conduct and the legal standards applicable to that conduct,” it said; and
  • Executive Order 13893, which strengthened “Administrative pay-as-you-go (Administrative PAYGO)” provisions, requiring federal agencies to propose cost-cutting measures when they advance any administrative action that would increase mandatory federal spending.

That indicates Biden intends to turn Barack Obama’s “pen and phone” strategy up to 11, even though his party controls every elective branch of government.

9. Including illegal aliens and other non-citizens in the U.S. Census. Biden’s executive order requires the Census Bureau to include anyone resident inside the United States “for purposes of congressional representation, without regard to whether its residents are in lawful immigration status.” Non-citizens should not be excluded from counting toward congressional power “solely on the ground that they lack a lawful immigration status.” This effectively gives greater representation – and federal funding – to jurisdictions that flout immigration laws, such as sanctuary cities. If congressional seats were apportioned on the basis of U.S. citizenship, California would lose six congressional seats; New York, Florida, and Texas would each lose one seat; and Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Wisconsin would each gain one seat.

10. Halting drilling in ANWR and the Keystone XL pipeline in the name of “environmental justice.” Biden’s executive order pledges to “advance environmental justice” and accentuate the feeling of “urgency for combatting climate change and accelerating the transition toward a clean energy economy.”

The order halts the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which has the capacity to carry 830,000 barrels of crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska. “The Keystone XL pipeline disserves the U.S. national interest,” Biden writes. While he admits that “most greenhouse gas emissions originate beyond our borders,” he believes the pipeline must be canceled “to avoid setting the world on a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate trajectory.”

His order imposes a temporary moratorium on oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), just one day after President Donald Trump issued leases to allow drilling on 400,000 acres. “Our economic future is at risk should this line of attack on our sovereignty and well-being continue,” said Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R).

Biden reinstates two Obama-era executive orders barring oil and natural gas drilling in the Bering Sea and reestablishing the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area.

It orders a federal working group to cook up interim “estimates of the monetized damages associated with incremental increases in greenhouse gas emissions.” The Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases will publish these new measures – known as the “social cost of carbon” (SCC), “social cost of nitrous oxide” (SCN), and “social cost of methane” (SCM) – in an interim report within 30 days and the final estimates by next January. The primary political achievement of these theoretical figures will be to offset the real and known economic damage caused by intrusive environmental regulations.

It creates a review process to advocate restoring the full, original size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments – which Barack Obama declared federal land and which President Trump reduced in size by 2 million acres – and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.

Biden also revokes or suspends 10 Trump executive orders aimed at “restoring the rule of law,” promoting “energy independence and economic growth,” and “accelerating the nation’s economic recovery from COVID-19,” among other causes.

11. Threatening conscience rights while establishing the “civil right” of biological males to participate in female sports, and use female showers and restrooms. Biden’s executive order affirms that transgender individuals “should be able to access healthcare,” an indication he intends to roll back protections for people of faith whose religion deems participation in sex reassignment surgeries sinful or immoral. Biden claims denying Christian healthcare providers’ conscience rights is “reflected in the Constitution,” citing the Supreme Court’s Bostock ruling that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes sexual orientation and gender identity. But Title VII is not part of the Constitution, and the 1964 law never intended to create law pertaining to those categories.

The order makes no reference to preserving religious liberty or freedom of conscience, although it notes obliquely that previous laws “prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, so long as the laws do not contain sufficient indications to the contrary.” The Trump administration recognized that healthcare providers may refuse to perform abortions or sex reassignment surgeries on the basis of religious liberty, via a rule from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Biden raises the participation of biological males in female sports, and the use of female facilities, to a civil right. No transgender individual should be “denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports” that correspond to his or her (or their, or zir) gender identity, he writes. Feminists say allowing boys to compete against girls decimates female sports. Last year, Swedish researchers found that biological males who received estrogen treatments for a year still maintained an athletic advantage over biological women who received testosterone, and last month the British Journal of Sports Medicine confirmed that biological males “still had a 9% faster mean run speed after the 1 year period of testosterone suppression that is recommended by World Athletics for inclusion in women’s events.”

Although the order mentions showers and restrooms, the Obama-Biden administration held that schools and colleges must allow biological members of one sex to sleep in the hotel or dorm rooms of the opposite biological sex, without meeting any medical criteria and without notifying their roommates that, e.g., her new roommate is a heterosexual who has male sex organs. Biden has recently voiced his support for allowing prisoners to go to the penitentiary that corresponds to their gender identity, rather than their biological sex. “This isn’t equality, and it isn’t progress. President Biden’s call for ‘unity’ falls flat when he seeks to hold those receiving federal funds hostage if they don’t do tremendous damage to the rights, opportunities, and dignity of women and girls,” said Christiana Holcomb of the Alliance Defending Freedom. “President Biden’s call for ‘unity’ falls flat when he seeks to hold those receiving federal funds hostage if they don’t do tremendous damage to the rights, opportunities, and dignity of women and girls.”

Biden orders agencies to review all regulations on the topic and propose the repeal of any offending rule within 100 days.

12. Targeting regulations to favored groups. President Biden’s memorandum “Modernizing Regulatory Review” has two emphases. It focuses on changing the regulatory process to combat “harmful anti-regulatory or deregulatory effects” by assuring government rhetoric “fully accounts for regulatory benefits that are difficult or impossible to quantify” – presumably the SCC, SCN, and SCM mentioned above. And it orders all federal regulators will measure “the distributional consequences of regulations” to “ensure that regulatory initiatives appropriately benefit … marginalized communities.”

13. Ethics pledge and lobbying ban. All Biden administration appointees must sign an ethics pledge to “not raise the appearance that I have used my Government service for private gain,” a charge that has dogged the Biden family since before Barack Obama tapped Joe Biden as his running mate. The executive order includes a two-year ban on appointees lobbying after leaving office, and on lobbying for foreign interests until the end of the administration or two years after tendering a resignation, whichever comes later. Former lobbyists must refrain for two years from participating in any matter “directly and substantially related to my former employer.” It also bans officials from receiving “golden parachute” packages from their former employers and from accepting gifts from lobbyists. However, the bill allows the director of the Office of Management and Budget to grant a waiver if he decides “it is in the public interest.” President Trump had implemented a five-year ban on appointees becoming lobbyists, which he rescinded on his last day in office – the same day President Biden signed his own, shorter lobbying ban.

14. Ending construction of the border wall. President Trump’s signature campaign promise, a wall on the southern border “is a waste of money that diverts attention from genuine threats to our homeland security,” according to Biden’s executive order. “It shall be the policy of my Administration that no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall.” All construction shall end “in no case later than seven days,” on January 28.

15. Deferring student loans. Biden has asked the acting secretary of Education to suspend all student loan collections and allow no further interest to accrue until an unspecified date, a press statement reveals. Officials have presented this in the context of COVID-19 relief. However, Biden’s team has teased the possibility of canceling all student loan debt.

16. Delaying the deportation of Liberians, again. Since 1991, the U.S. has protected refugees from Liberia, which found itself riven by two civil wars (1989-1997 and 1999-2003). Their Temporary Protected Status expired in 2007, but President George W. Bush granted them Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), which Presidents Obama and Trump renewed continuously until January 10 of this year. Biden signed a memorandum restoring Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for native citizens of Liberia through June 30, 2022, 19 years after the end of the last civil war.

17. Fortify DACA. Biden’s executive order instructs that secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General “to preserve and fortify” the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA exempts those who entered the United States illegally at a young age from being deported, if they meet certain criteria.

In all, Joe Biden had a revolutionary first day in office. What will his second day bring?

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson is Executive Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.