Not long after he takes the presidential oath Wednesday, Joe Biden will use the power of his pen to begin a sweeping transformation of U.S. policy through dozens of executive orders, presidential memoranda and other official directives.
The wave of executive action will unfold over Biden’s first 10 days, according to incoming administration officials. If the plan plays out as expected, the number, scope and impact of the new president’s early moves would exceed those undertaken by his three most recent predecessors.
“On Inauguration Day, President-elect Biden will sign roughly a dozen actions,” incoming White House chief of staff Ron Klain wrote in a memo to senior staff last week. “While the policy objectives in these executive actions are bold, I want to be clear: the legal theory behind them is well-founded and represents a restoration of an appropriate, constitutional role for the President.”
Donald Trump on his first day in office in 2017 signed a single executive order to begin rolling back the Affordable Care Act. He signed four more orders and 8 presidential memoranda in his first week, according to a review of the Federal Register. By the 100 day mark, Trump had signed 33 executive orders.
Neither Barack Obama nor George W. Bush signed any executive orders or other presidential directives on their first day on the job. Obama signed 11 executive actions in his first week while Bush did none, according to the Federal Register.
“We’re going to act. On Day One, we’re going to act to get COVID under control,” Biden declared in November ahead of Election Day.
Aides to the president-elect say unprecedented and urgent action is justified in the face of four concurrent national crises: the pandemic, a historic recession, climate change and deep racial inequality.
“We’re gonna get to work on Day One. We’re gonna reverse Trump’s rollbacks of 100 public health and environmental rules,” Biden said in July of his plans.
One of the first Biden orders will be a nationwide mask mandate for all federal property and interstate travel that will last for 100 days, aides say.
“Federal buildings, interstate travel on planes, trains and buses,” Biden said in December of where it will be enforced. “Wear a mask for just 100 days. It’s the easiest thing you can do to reduce COVID cases, hospitalizations and death.”
As the nation’s testing and vaccination system continues to falter, Biden also plans to immediately activate emergency resources to establish thousands of community vaccination centers.
"On my first day in office, I will instruct the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, to begin setting up the first of these centers," the president-elect said last week.
Klain said Biden would also unveil new, consistent federal guidelines for safely reopening schools and businesses by "establishing clear public health standards."
With widespread financial hardship from the pandemic, the administration plans to quickly extend a federal moratorium on evictions and foreclosures and an Education Department suspension of payments for federal student loan debt.
A number of actions will dramatically overhaul the government’s approach to immigration.
Biden will immediately end the national emergency declaration at the southern border, freezing new construction of the wall and ceasing the use of Pentagon funds to pay for it.
He will reauthorize the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for young undocumented immigrants; pause all deportations; and, reverse a travel ban on visitors from 13 predominantly-Muslim countries, Klain explained in the memo.
"On Day One, I’ll end Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim ban. I’ll push Congress to pass hate crimes legislation," Biden said in October.
Two years after Trump ended the controversial child separation policy on the border, Biden has also vowed to create a task force to reunite hundreds of children and parents and help heal families still broken apart.
"Immediately on Day One, I’m setting up a special commission," Biden said late last year.
Sources say President Biden on Day One will reaffirm global alliances, like NATO and the United Nations, which Trump openly criticized. He plans to immediately rejoin America to the World Health Organization and re-sign the Paris climate agreement.
On civil rights, Biden will reinstate protections for transgender Americans which Trump rolled back in health care, education and the military.
Some of Biden’s biggest campaign promises won’t come quickly or easily.
New gun controls, elimination of the 2017 Trump tax cuts, forgiveness of student loans, and a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants will all require approval from a narrowly-divided Congress.
Biden says he will send a comprehensive draft immigration reform bill to Congress on Wednesday.
“The Democrats only control the Senate 50-50 with the tie breaking vote going to Vice President elect Kamala Harris. So, the question of whether they can do everything they want to do is very much up in the air. And in fact, they probably can't do everything they want to do,” said Nathaniel Rakich, an elections analyst with FiveThirtyEight.
And first, Biden will need his nominees for the Cabinet confirmed by the Senate. The confirmation process is already lagging behind, delayed by runoff elections in Georgia and a changeover in party control to Democrats.
Biden will likely be the first president in decades to have none of his Cabinet picks confirmed on Day One. The Senate confirmed Trump’s defense and homeland security secretaries on his first day in office; Obama saw seven of his cabinet picks installed on Inauguration Day.
“President-elect Biden will really work to try to turn the page on the divisiveness and the hatred over the last four years and really lay out a positive, optimistic vision for the country, and lay out a way, lay out a path forward that really calls on all of us to work together,” incoming White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said on ABC’s “This Week” of Biden’s inaugural message.
After his inaugural address, Biden will take a symbolic step toward setting a new tone, joining the Obamas, Bushes and Clintons for a tribute at Arlington National Cemetery.
Biden’s first day as president will commence with a salute to the service and sacrifice that make this country great before quickly pivoting to an ambitious agenda for his first term.