On his first day in office, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. signed 17 executive orders to reverse Trump-era policies on issues including immigration, climate change and the coronavirus in his focus of restoring the nation.
In his first executive order, Biden signed a bill requiring face coverings and social distancing on all federal property. As president, Biden is encouraging mask-wearing across the nation and will work with local health agencies in “maximizing public compliance.”
Matt Lesenyie, a political science professor at Long Beach State, said he felt Biden’s inaugural address was “exceptionally well done” as it appealed to the country as a whole.
“I thought Biden did a fine job articulating Americans’ desire to treat COVID seriously and with utmost urgency. It was plainspoken, honest and with optimism,” Lesenyie said. “Simultaneously, he spoke to congressional leaders and Trump supporters about how he will govern for all Americans. Biden hit all those notes with humility.”
Within his first day, Biden also directed the Department of Education to extend student loan repayment for another nine months.
“Too many Americans are struggling to pay for basic necessities and to provide for their families. They should not be forced to choose between paying their student loans and putting food on the table,” Biden said in a presidential statement.
That same day, Biden signed a bill rejoining the United States in the Paris Climate Agreement, a treaty that Trump announced the nation’s withdrawal from in 2017. This, along with Biden’s revocation of the Keystone XL Pipeline permit and his vow to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, falls under the order on “protecting public health and restoring science to tackle the climate crisis.”
Biden also called on the Department of Homeland Security to “preserve and fortify DACA,” or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, implemented during the Obama administration. He officially revoked Trump’s discriminatory travel and immigration bans as well as resumed visa processing.
Lesenyie said he was feeling “patriotic and proud of the peaceful transition of power” following the inauguration and was moved by the historic event of swearing in the nation’s first female vice president.
He said that since Vice President Kamala Harris has broken down this barrier, the next generation will be “politically socialized having seen her in the White House.”
“They will see that as common and not a big deal. Clearly, Vice President Harris will make an impression on Americans by holding this office,” Lesenyie said. “Harris winning office will send a powerful signal about what is possible and who belongs in power.”
Three history-making senators were also sworn in Wednesday, with Sen. Jon Ossoff, Sen. Raphael Warnock and Sen. Alex Padilla all taking office.
Ossoff, the first Jewish senator from Georgia, was sworn in holding a Hebrew bible that had belonged to Atlanta Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, a civil rights activist and ally of Martin Luther King, Jr., according to Ossoff’s press secretary.
Today, as I was sworn in, I held in my jacket pocket copies of the ships’ manifests recorded at Ellis Island when my Great Grandfather Israel arrived in 1911 and my Great Grandmother Annie arrived in 1913.
A century later, their great grandson was elected to the U.S. Senate. pic.twitter.com/cjTNMMfYwP
— Jon Ossoff (@ossoff) January 21, 2021
Along with Warnock, Georgia’s first Black senator, the two are the first Democrats to represent the state in the Senate since 2000.
California’s first Latinx senator, Padilla has taken Harris’ seat after serving as secretary of state since 2015. To replace him, Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Shirley Weber, an assembly member from San Diego, who will be the first Black woman to hold the position.
Despite these strides, Lesenyie feels that it is not likely the Democratic majority in Congress will be able to enact many progressive policies.
“Democrats should think about policies that can pass after heavy politicization and filibuster by the Republican minority. I could see infrastructure spending passing, perhaps immigration reform, but there are simply not enough votes to make aggressive change in the US Senate,” he said.
Biden also implemented reform tackling racial and gender-based discrimination, stating in his bill that “every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love.”
In line with this sentiment, Biden nominated Rachel Levine as his assistant secretary of health for the Department of Health and Human Services. She will be the nation’s first openly transgender federal official confirmed by the Senate.
President-elect Biden has nominated Dr. Levine to serve as Assistant HHS Secretary. A deeply experienced public servant and public health expert, she is poised to become the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.https://t.co/REmjFd98Hl
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 19, 2021
“Adults should be able to earn a living and pursue a vocation knowing that they will not be fired, demoted or mistreated because of whom they go home to or because how they dress does not conform to sex-based stereotypes,” the statement read. “People should be able to access healthcare and secure a roof over their heads without being subjected to sex discrimination. All persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.”
One of his immediate actions as president, Biden signed a directive pursuing “a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.”
In the order, Biden stated that “our country faces converging economic, health and climate crises that have exposed and exacerbated inequities, while a historic movement for justice has highlighted the unbearable human costs of systemic racism.” With this bill, he is striving to implement “an ambitious whole-of-government equity agenda that matches the scale of the opportunities and challenges that we face.”
“A day ago we had a president who rarely if ever sought unity or compromise. This inauguration occurred at a time when most Americans have a crystal clear sense of the problems at hand,” Lesenyie said.
Lesenyie felt that Trump’s lack of participation in a proper transition of power was “far worse” than his refusal to participate in the inauguration ceremony. Trump “effectively stalled the implementation of Biden’s policies and appointments” by being uncooperative, Lesenyie said.
“His behavior suggests a disdain for the will of the people and the important work of our government,” he said.
Lesenyie feels it is likely that former Vice President Mike Pence will run for office, which is why he attended the inauguration, despite Trump’s absence, to “maintain his reputation by certifying the electoral college decision.”
“To be entirely fair, our tax dollars are paying him to come to work and this was what his job required today,” Lesenyie said.