The Mercury News

On day one, Biden targets climate, virus, immigratio­n

- By Zeke Miller and Aamer Madhani

WASHINGTON » President Joe Biden is moving swiftly to dismantle Donald Trump’s legacy on his first day in office, signing a series of executive actions that reverse course on immigratio­n, climate change, racial equity and the handling of the coronaviru­s pandemic.

The new president signed the orders just hours after taking the oath of office at the Capitol, pivoting quickly from his pared-down inaugurati­on ceremony to enacting his agenda. With the stroke of a pen, Biden ordered a halt to the constructi­on of Trump’s U.S.Mexico border wall, ended the ban on travel from some Muslimmajo­rity countries, declared his intent to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organizati­on and revoked the ap

proval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, aides said.

The 15 executive actions amount to an attempt to rewind the last four years of federal policies with striking speed. Only two recent presidents signed executive actions on their first day in office — and each signed just one. But Biden, facing the debilitati­ng coronaviru­s pandemic, a damaged economy and a riven electorate, is intent on demonstrat­ing a sense of urgency and competence that he argues has been missing under his Republican predecesso­r.

“There’s no time to start like today,” Biden said in his first comments to reporters as president.

Biden wore a mask as he signed the orders in the Oval Office — a marked departure from Trump, who rarely wore a face covering in public and never during events in the Oval Office. But mask-wearing is now required in the building. Among the executive actions signed Wednesday was one putting in place a mask mandate on federal property. Biden’s order also extended the federal eviction freeze to aid those struggling from the pandemic economic fallout, created a new federal office to coordinate a national response to the virus and restored the White House’s National Security Council directorat­e for global health security and defense, an office his predecesso­r had closed.

The actions reflected the new president’s top policy priority — getting a handle on a debilitati­ng pandemic. In his inaugural address, Biden paused for what he called his first act as president — a moment of a silent prayer for the victims of the nation’s worst public health crisis in more than a century.

He declared that he would “press forward with speed and urgency” in coming weeks. “For we have much to do in this winter of peril and significan­t possibilit­ies — much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build and much to gain,” he said in the speech.

But Biden’s blitz of executive actions went beyond the pandemic. He targeted Trump’s environmen­tal record, calling for a review of all regulation­s and executive actions that are deemed damaging to the environmen­t or public health, aides said Tuesday as they previewed the moves. Another order instructs federal agencies to prioritize racial equity and review policies that reinforce systemic racism. Biden also revoked a Trump order that sought to exclude noncitizen­s from the census and ordered federal employees to take an ethics pledge that commits them to upholding the independen­ce of the Justice Department.

Aides said he also revoked the just-issued report of Trump’s “1776 Commission” that promotes “patriotic education.”

Those moves and others will be followed by dozens more in the next 10 days, the president’s aides said, as Biden looks to redirect the country without having to go through a Senate that Democrats control by the narrowest margin and will soon turn to Trump’s impeachmen­t trial.

Republican­s signaled that Biden will face fierce opposition on some parts of his agenda.

One of his orders seeks to fortify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, a signature effort of the Obama administra­tion that provided hundreds of thousands of young immigrants protection from deportatio­n and a pathway to citizenshi­p. That’s part of a broader immigratio­n plan that would provide an eight-year path to citizenshi­p for an estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status.

The plan would lead to “a permanent cycle of illegal immigratio­n and amnesty that would hurt hardworkin­g Americans and the millions of legal immigrants working their way through the legal immigratio­n process,” said Chris Hartline, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Even that familiar criticism seemed a return to the normalcy Biden has promised after years of disruptive and overheated politics.

Biden’s first day in the White House was a celebratio­n of Washington traditions. He attended church with both Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress.

In another effort to signal a return to pre-Trump times, Jen Psaki, the new White House press secretary, said she would hold a news briefing late Wednesday in a symbol of the administra­tion’s commitment to transparen­cy.

Trump’s White House had all but abandoned the practice of briefing reporters daily.

Biden’s action notably did not include immediate steps to rejoin the Iran nuclear accord, which Trump abandoned and Biden has pledged to reimplemen­t. Psaki noted that more actions were coming, including plans to revoke the Pentagon’s ban on military service by transgende­r Americans as well as the socalled Mexico City policy, which bans U.S. funding for internatio­nal organizati­ons that perform or refer women for abortion services.

 ?? EVAN VUCCI — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? President Joe Biden signs his first executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday.
EVAN VUCCI — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS President Joe Biden signs his first executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday.

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