What we know about Biden’s first-day checklist

A full schedule.
A full schedule.
Image: Reuters/ Kevin Lamarque
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All US presidential candidates have an ambitious list of tasks they promise to accomplish on the first day of their presidency. Whether or not they can actually fit a few hours of work between their noon inauguration and the evening galas, the promised Day One agenda is filled with items of heightened importance to their electoral base. Often, they involve reversing unpopular actions of their predecessors and can be accomplished by executive order without waiting for Congress.

President-elect Joe Biden’s to-do list is particularly long. Between the items he specifically identified as day one tasks and other urgent matters, it’s likely accomplishing them all will occupy his first weeks and months in office.

Here’s some of what’s on his Day One agenda.

Combat coronavirus 

Rejoin the WHO  

On July 7, president Donald Trump announced that he was withdrawing the US from the World Health Organization (WHO) on the grounds that the agency was biased towards China. That same day, Joe Biden vowed to reverse that decision on his first day as president. Though Trump had a point—China did stymie WHO’s early efforts to get data on Covid-19 cases—it’s clear that more global coordination, not less, is the key to combating this and any future pandemics.

Federal mask mandate

Biden has said that even before inauguration, he’d reach out Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease specialist, for advice on how to combat the pandemic. One recommendation Fauci has endorsed before: make masks mandatory.

In October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stopped just short of recommending one, instead issuing a “strong recommendation” for mask use on transportation such as planes, trains, and ride-share vehicles. Widespread use of masks could save 130,000 lives by March, according to a recent study.

Biden, who has positioned himself as a pro-science candidate, has already said that he would issue an executive order requiring masks on federal property, which would include transportation as the CDC recommends. This could have a snowball effect on state and local governments that don’t already have such policies in place.

Start repairing the US’s reputation

Call up NATO 

After four years of Trump’s disparagement of the military alliance and its members in public—and threatening to withdraw from it in private—Biden said on Day One he’ll reassure the US’s allies that “we’re back and you can count on us again.

This might be the easiest task on Biden’s Day One list, since there’s a good chance that many of the leaders will either call to offer congratulations or attend his inauguration. NATO allies are eager to welcome the US back into the fold, and will schedule a summit for March to reaffirm the US’s leadership of the alliance.

Rejoin the Paris climate accord 

After a year-long waiting period, the US officially left the Paris climate agreement on Nov. 4. While it took a while for Trump to finalize the exit, the landmark international effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions has few restrictions on countries that want to join—or re-join. Biden has promised to do so, and on Day One or soon thereafter he could submit a notice to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that the US intends to reenter the agreement. After a quick 30-day waiting period, the country would be back in. Up next, he’d need to file a new emissions-reduction pledge for 2030.

Keep more fossil fuels in the ground

In a July 14 speech, Biden promised that if elected, he would “reverse Trump’s rollbacks of 100 public health and environmental rules,” many accomplished (and easily undone) by no-fuss executive orders. High on the list could be rollbacks that Trump used to enable fossil fuel extraction, like orders that allowed oil and gas companies to speed through permitting processes for new pipelines. Biden could also issue a number of his own executive orders to reduce extraction, like directing the Department of the Interior to halt oil and gas leases and fracking on federal lands.

Start restoring protections for Americans

Expand and codify ethics standards

As part of a broad effort to restore faith in the federal government, Biden will demand that all members of his administration sign an ethics “pledge,” based on an order Barack Obama issued as president in 2009. The pledge requires appointees in the executive branch to refuse gifts from lobbyists. It also promises to end the revolving door of government officials becoming lobbyists (and vice versa) within two years of leaving their positions.

Though some progressives have argued Biden’s proposed ethics reforms don’t go far enough, most agree he urgently needs to rebuild the executive’s credibility following the Trump administration, which was riddled with conflicts of interest, along with credible reports of corruption.

Restore transgender students’ rights

In May 2016, Obama’s education department issued guidance that required any school receiving funds from the federal government to extend protections to transgender students, including allowing them to access bathrooms and locker rooms, and participate in sports based on their gender identitites. Trump and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, promptly revoked that guidance.

Biden says he’ll reinstate those protections on his first day in office and direct his education department to “vigorously enforce and investigate violations of transgender students’ civil rights.” He’s consistently advocated for LGBT rights on the campaign trail, telling one mother with a trans daughter that he’d “flat out change the law.”

Make DACA permanent

The US Supreme Court dealt a blow to Trump’s agenda this June when it blocked the administration from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). Enacted by Obama in 2012, it shielded some 700,000 young adults who were brought to the US as children and grew up in the country but did not have legal citizenship. Without that protection, they could lose the ability to work or attend school, and would become eligible for deportation.

After the court’s ruling, Biden vowed he would try to pass the protections into law. “As President, I will immediately work to make it permanent by sending a bill to Congress on day one of my Administration,” he said in a statement. He has also pledged to create a task force by executive order focused on reuniting immigrant children separated from their families at the US-Mexico border.

End the “Muslim ban”

Biden said it was “vile” for Trump to ban entry to the US from several predominately Muslim countries during a speech in July and promised to overturn the restrictions on his first day.

The so-called Muslim ban was one of Trump’s first acts upon taking office, created through executive order. Originally it sought to restrict travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from coming into the US for 90 days, blocked all Syrian refugees indefinitely, and barred other refugees for 120 days. But after a series of court challenges, it was altered to target entrants from six mostly Muslim countries as well as North Korea and certain officials from Venezuela. The US Supreme Court upheld that version of the ban in June 2018.

Eliminate restrictions on union workers

Biden would eliminate restrictions on federal workers unions imposed by Trump, including limiting the time workers can spend on union business. It’s part of the president-elect’s broader plan to strengthen union organizing. “The federal government should serve as a role model for employers to treat their workers fairly,” it reads.

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