Biden’s most significant executive actions, from immigration to climate change

Big promises.
Big promises.
Image: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Following an unusual inauguration ceremony, US president Joe Biden got right to work.

In a symbolic move, Biden signed 17 executive actions, ranging from orders to memoranda and directives, that are in line with the promises he’s made to govern differently from his predecessor, Donald Trump.

The flurry of orders—which deal with the pandemic, climate change, and racism—is a testament to how swiftly the new administration wants to reverse Trump’s legacy. It’s also at odds with Biden’s historical instinct of turning to Congress to enact legislation. Politico reports that more progressive Democrats have pushed the newly elected president to use his executive powers to the fullest extent, as Biden might otherwise struggle to enact his agenda with only a slim Congressional majority.

The actions range in importance, but a couple stand out. We’ve outlined them all, and highlighted a few, below.

What are Biden’s executive orders?

Biden’s Day-One executive actions include:

Some of these stand out as being particularly timely, including:

The World Health Organization

Trump withdrew the US from the WHO in April, weakening the global response to the pandemic at a crucial time. (The US was the WHO’s main source of funding.)

Biden reversed that decision and will send a delegation, headed by top US infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci, to the 148th session of the WHO Executive Board. During that meeting, which will last until Jan. 26, public health leaders will discuss pandemic preparedness and response (pdf), and Fauci will make a speech.

Trump condemned the WHO from the start of the pandemic, accusing the agency of mishandling the crisis, pandering to China, and maligning his decision early on to close US borders to some foreign visitors. While Trump’s decision to leave the WHO was extreme, there is broad agreement that the organization is in need of reform. Biden has committed to taking up that cause, with plans to “work with the WHO and our partners to strengthen and reform the organization, support the Covid-19 health and humanitarian response, and advance global health and health security.”

That pledge comes not a moment too soon, as the US death toll from Covid-19 passes 400,000.


Trump once said he would prevent all immigration into the US. That didn’t happen, but over his four years in power, he radically changed US immigration policy.

Among other things, Trump tried, and failed, to reverse DACA; allocated $15 billion to build a wall at the US border with Mexico in order to keep undocumented migrants out; and weakened the rules allowing qualified immigrants to enter a lottery to obtain H-1B visas. He banned the citizens of 13 countries from obtaining most types of visas to enter the US, and for a while separated children from their families when they arrived at the border to seek asylum.

Biden has said he will sign an executive order revoking Trump’s immigration policies. He will direct the Department of Homeland Security to develop an alternative immigration policy that will pause the construction of the border wall while figuring out how to best redirect the funding; use the institutions of government to “preserve and fortify” DACA; and reverse Trump’s travel ban and his decision to prevent the Census from counting undocumented immigrants.

Climate change

Trump presided over a historic rollback in environmental regulation as part of his war on red tape. He replaced Obama’s signature policy, the Clean Power Plan, with a weaker rule on affordable clean energy—a move the US Court of Appeals struck down just yesterday. He has denied climate change, and routinely casts doubt on the experts, even from his own administration, who say climate change is getting worse.

Biden’s plans for the climate are ambitious. His first move will see the US rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. His second is an executive order with different action items, including:

  • Directing all federal agencies to “immediately review and take appropriate action to address” Trump-era policies or regulations that are damaging to the environment or public health.
  • Establishing new limits on methane emissions, new vehicle mileage standards and emissions limits, and efficiency standards for appliances.
  • Placing a moratorium on Arctic oil and gas leasing, and reviewing boundaries of Utah’s Bears Ears and other national monuments that were changed under Trump.
  • Revoking authorization for the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
  • Re-establishing an Obama-era interagency working group to set a “social cost of carbon,” a metric the government uses to judge the cost of climate damage.

Biden is coming out of the gate with ambitious plans to reverse the last four years and move forward as a country dedicated to global leadership on climate change, social justice, and public health. As ever, it will be up to engaged citizens to hold his administration to those promises.