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Within hours of taking office, President Joe Biden issued a burst of executive orders and actions to begin dismantling Donald Trump’s legacy. Biden’s moves included reversing of immigration policies, rejoining key international entities, and efforts aimed at enhancing the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"We will press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities," Biden said in his inaugural address. "Much to repair. Much to restore. Much to heal. Much to build. And much to gain."
It’s not unusual for a president to issue orders on his first day or days in office, but Biden’s orders come with a sense of urgency amid a pandemic that has left more than 400,000 Americans dead and millions struggling economically all while the nation waits on the slow-moving delivery of vaccinations.
Biden’s orders, along with his $1.9 trillion plan for tackling the coronavirus pandemic and related economic fallout, sends a strong message to voters and Congress about his priorities.
"Given the crisis, he wants to give the impression that he’s wasting no time, that he’s acting," said David Barker, professor of government at American University.
Biden’s first and second day orders and actions earned him PolitiFact’s Promise Kept ratings on a few promises and In the Works ratings for other promises we are tracking on our Biden Promise Tracker.
For many promises, his action is just an initial step; his administration will have much more to do if he is going to fully keep those promises. Here is a look at the promises he moved on on his first and second days in office.
On his first day, Biden signed an executive order creating the position of COVID-19 Response Coordinator, who will report directly to the president and be responsible for organizing the federal government’s efforts to increase testing capacity, distribute personal protective equipment and oversee the COVID-19 vaccine distribution. The order signifies Biden’s approach to having the federal government take a more active role in addressing the COVID pandemic.
Biden has already tapped Jeff Zients, a former Obama-era official to fill the position of response coordinator. During his time in the Obama administration, Zients worked to fix the rollout of healthcare.gov, the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace website. Since the position doesn’t require Senate confirmation, Zients begins work immediately. We rated this promise In the Works.
Biden also signed an order to require masks in federal buildings and lands, a step toward his promise to issue mask mandates nationwide. He also directed federal officials to engage with state and local officials with the goal of maximizing mask wearing and other public health best practices.
But Biden doesn’t have the power to force state or local governments to issue mandates, and some states may continue to resist adopting such directives. "We are still a very divided country and so there may be some ability to move individual areas, but the politics on the ground will still play a role," said Adriane Casalotti, a spokesperson for the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
We rated this promise In the Works.
Meanwhile, Biden kept his promise to reverse Trump’s 2020 pullout from the World Health Organization. Biden sent a letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres to reverse that process and stay in the WHO.
Biden also earned a Promise Kept for signing an executive order on his first day in office to restore a White House office that addressed global health security.
Biden signed an executive order to establish a national pandemic testing board headed by Zients, earning him an In the Works for his promise to increase COVID-19 testing. He likened the board to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's War Production Board that produced military supplies for World War II, including aircraft, tanks and firearms.
Biden earned another In the Works for beginning the process of leveraging the powers of the Defense Production Act to produce additional protective equipment for front-line medical workers in the pandemic. Agency officials will first need to assess the situation and report back to the White House on what powers under the act may need to be used.
Biden also issued an executive order to support the opening and continued operation of schools. "It is the policy of my administration to provide support to help create the conditions for safe, in‑person learning as quickly as possible," Biden wrote in his Jan. 21 order. Biden's plan requires buy-in from lawmakers who have formally approved $54 billion for K-12 schools in December. For now, it gets an In the Works.
Finally, Biden began to move on his promise to get "at least 100 million COVID vaccine shots into the arms of the American people in the first 100 days." He released a national vaccine strategy as part of his COVID-19 response plan, which among other things says the federal government will provide consistent projections to states on vaccine supply and launch a vaccine public education campaign.
During a Jan. 21 press briefing about his coronavirus orders, Biden said he will set up 100 federally run-vaccination sites across the country by the end of the first month of his presidency. The sites will be administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
However, the wide-scale vaccination efforts Biden outlined will require funding from Congress, which could be a sticking point. We rated that promise In the Works.
Biden also took a series of steps related to Trump’s immigration policies.
Biden campaigned promising to rescind the "Muslim bans." Soon after taking office, Biden issued a proclamation to revoke a Trump executive order and proclamations that had restricted entry from multiple Muslim-majority countries. The travel ban was one of Trump’s most controversial actions. It took Trump three tries to get an order that eventually withstood legal scrutiny from the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018, despite rulings against it from lower courts.
We rated Biden’s pledge to immediately rescind the "Muslim bans" a Promise Kept.
Biden also took action to undo Trump’s actions related to climate change and the environment.
He signed a one-sentence executive action that will bring the United States back into the Paris Climate Agreement, which Trump had exited. The Biden administration is sending a letter to the United Nations requesting membership, and formal re-entry will come about a month from now. Because of this delay, we have rated this promise In the Works.
Biden also started the ball rolling on increasing the minimum wage to $15, another one of his campaign promises. As he proposed his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, Biden said his administration would "increase the federal minimum wage to $15 across the country and eliminate the minimum tipped wage."
In addition, he signed an executive order on Jan. 22 that the Office of Personnel Management to develop recommendations to pay more federal employees at least $15 per hour.
Because national enactment of a $15 minimum wage would require an act of Congress, we have rated this promise In the Works.
Jon Greenberg, Victoria Knight, and Miriam Valverde contributed to this article.
The White House, National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, Jan. 21, 2021
The White House, Presidential actions, Jan. 20, 2021
The White House, Executive Order on Organizing and Mobilizing the United States Government to Provide a Unified and Effective Response to Combat COVID-19 and to Provide United States Leadership on Global Health and Security, Jan. 20, 2021
The White House, Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis, Jan. 20, 2021
C-SPAN, President Joe Biden’s inaugural address, Jan. 20, 2021
Wall Street Journal, Biden’s First-Day Executive Orders to Include Mask Mandate, Blocking Keystone Pipeline, Jan. 20, 2021
CNN, Biden targets Trump's legacy with first-day executive actions, Jan. 20, 2021
Email interview, David Barker, Director, Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies and government professor at American University, Jan. 20, 2021
See individual promise updates for additional sources