On day-1 in office, Biden reverses key Trump policies

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On day one in office, US President Joe Biden has signed 15 executive orders, reversing some of the key foreign policies and national security decisions of his predecessor Donald Trump.

The executive orders ranged from rejoining the Paris agreement on climate change, halting America’s withdrawal from the World Health Organisation, revoking Muslim travel ban and stopping immediate construction of Mexico border wall.

“I’m proud of today’s executive actions, and I’m going to start by keeping the promises I made to the American people. A long way to go. These are just executive actions. They are important, but we’re going to need legislation for a lot of the things we’re going to do,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office of the White House as he signed the first lot of executive orders on Wednesday.

The president said he will be signing a number of executive orders over the next several days of the week.

“And I’m going to start today on the compounding crisis of COVID, along with the economic crisis following that, and climate crisis, racial equity issues,” he said.

His first executive order was launching his 100-day masking challenge, asking Americans to mask up for 100 days.

Biden is doing his part as well, issuing a mask mandate that will require anyone visiting a federal building or federal land or using certain modes of public transportation to wear a mask, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

Addressing her maiden news conference on Wednesday, Psaki said Biden has signed 15 executive orders and two other directives.

The president signed an executive order reversing Trump’s decision to withdraw from the World Health Organisation, she said.

“This will strengthen our own efforts to get the (coronavirus) pandemic under control by improving global health, and tomorrow we are not wasting any time,” she said.

Biden also officially appointed a COVID-19 response coordinator, a position and team that he had already previously announced but made it official today to create a unified national response to the pandemic. He re-established the national security team responsible for global health, security and bio-defence.

Noting that COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an almost unprecedented housing affordability crisis, Psaki said the president took immediate action to confront the crisis and asked relevant agencies to extend nationwide moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.

The pandemic has also increased the hardships of millions of Americans who owe federal student loans. In response, the president asked the education department to extend the pause on student loan payments and interest, she said.

“He (Biden) rejoined the Paris climate agreement putting the United States back in a position to exercise global leadership in advancing the objectives of the ambitious agreement,” Psaki said.

In a second broad executive order, Biden rolled back harmful regulatory reversals made by the previous administration to protect public health and the environment.

This order protects nation’s treasures by reviewing the boundaries for several national monuments, places a temporary moratorium on all oil and natural gas leasing in the Arctic national wildlife refuge and reestablishes the interagency working group on the social cost of greenhouse gases.

“He also launched a whole of government effort to advance racial equity and root out systemic racism from federal programs and institutions. He directed the Secretary of Homeland Security in consultation with the Attorney General to take all appropriate actions to preserve and fortify DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which provides temporary relief from deportation to dreamers, young people who were brought to this country as children,” Psaki said.

“The president also put an end to the Muslim ban, a policy rooted in religious animus and xenophobia. He sent a proclamation effective immediately halting further funding construction of the previous administration’s border wall and terminating the so-called national emergency use to wastefully divert billions for wall construction,” she said.

Biden also sent an immigration bill (the US Citizenship Act of 2021) to Congress to modernise the immigration system, she said.

Biden told reporters that these are just all starting points.

“We are going to, in the process of rebuilding the economy, do what I said throughout the campaign and while running: rebuild the backbone of the country, the middle class. And so there’s going to be a lot of focus on that. I think some of the things we’re going to be doing are we’re going to be are bold and vital, and there’s no time to start like today,” he said.

UN chief welcomes US re-engagement with WHO:

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the United States’ stated re-engagement with the World Health Organization (WHO), saying supporting the health agency is “absolutely critical” to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said Washington joining the global vaccine initiative will boost efforts to ensure equitable access to vaccines for all countries.

“Supporting the WHO is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts for a better coordinated response against COVID-19,” a statement issued by the UN Chief’s spokesperson on Wednesday said.

Guterres said now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop the virus and its shattering consequences.

Angry at the WHO for its handling of the coronavirus, which he had termed “China virus” due to its origin in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump had halted funding to the global health agency last year.

His administration had also formally notified the United Nations of its decision to withdraw the US from the WHO.