As Saturday Night Live amusingly pointed out several years ago, President Barack Obama issued several powerful executive orders to push his agenda around a hostile Republican Congress. Today, President-elect Joe Biden — a direct witness to each of Obama’s 276 executive orders — takes his seat in the Oval Office.
On Saturday, incoming chief of staff Ron Klain
, confirmed several of Biden’s proposed executive actions in a memo to other senior advisors. With this in mind, allow me to examine the executive actions that will likely dominate headlines in the coming weeks.
Proposal #1: End Trump’s “Muslim Ban”
This was the first objective outlined by Klain on Saturday, and it is carried out with generally good intentions. Formally known as Executive Order 13769, President Trump’s move to close America’s borders to all citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries was labelled by some as racist and religiously insensitive. Other critics of Trump’s order pointed to decades-old freedom of travel precedents between countries across the globe.
Despite this, it seems that the ban has accomplished its purpose. Islamic terrorism (specifically ISIS) poses significantly less of a threat to the U.S. now than it did in 2017. Is this directly because of the ban? Of course not. ISIS and other violent fundamentalist groups have been greatly weakened by the war in Syria. Its attacks in Europe and elsewhere around the world have consequently weakened; this is completely independent of Trump’s order.
“COVID-19 is also a major concern of mine in ending this ban. The U.S. has struggled mightily with the pandemic, and vaccine distribution over the holiday season was much slower than expected.”
COVID-19 is also a major concern of mine in ending this ban. The U.S. has struggled mightily with the pandemic, and vaccine distribution over the holiday season was much slower than expected. Having to distribute and vaccinate anyone beyond those currently in the country poses a unique challenge to America’s exhausted healthcare system.
However, I understand why the Biden Administration has decided to move forward and overturn E.O. 13769. The gesture is symbolic, and so long as it does not distract from pandemic-related and economic issues, I support it.
Proposal #2: Mandate masks on federal property
This is the one we all saw coming, but its implementation seems more passive than Biden once promised. During the primary debates and numerous times on the campaign trail, Biden tossed around the idea of a “national” mask mandate.
On Inauguration Day, whether or not a president has the authority to issue such a mandate remains in question. So
, Biden appears likely to play it safe here and issue an order requiring masks on all federal property and during interstate travel.
Although this is being talked about quite a bit, it probably will not have a huge impact. Critics from both left and right have dismissed Biden’s mask plan as a simple continuation of measures already in place. It is already required for individuals to wear a mask to enter government buildings and board airplanes. If he hopes to accomplish anything meaningful on the issue of masks, Biden will need to enact his proposal through Congress, not an executive order.
Proposal #3: Re-join the Paris Climate Accord
Once again, an expected move. Studies show that the planet is warming, even if the exact degree of human impact remains unclear. But is the Paris Accord the be-all and end-all solution to climate change? Perhaps, but not without a significant crackdown on the carbon emissions of China and India. U.S. emissions began to decrease late in the Obama years and continued to drop under Trump. Yet the world still faces a climate crisis with the potential to ravage generations to come.
The Accord’s toll on American workers leaves me equally skeptical of Biden’s efforts to re-join. After all, the proponents of the U.S.’s withdrawal stated that remaining in the plan could eliminate 6.5 million industrial sector jobs and raise electricity costs substantially by 2040. When the U.S. does re-enter this agreement, it is imperative that its delegates remind the others why they left in the first place.