Building Back Better: Biden's Executive Orders

“We’re in a national emergency. We need to act like we’re in a national emergency. So we’ve got to move with everything we’ve got.” Since entering office on January 20, President Joe Biden has already signed more than 30 executive orders—federal directives issued by the President of the United States—that address a wide variety of issues including Covid-19, reconnecting with the global community, and racial equity. Biden’s decision to use executive orders instead of passing legislation through Congress alone is indicative of steps in the right direction. Whereas the latter can take weeks, executive orders can be put into effect almost immediately, if not challenged at the courts. However, although these executive orders offer quick fixes to the pressing issues and are certainly a step in the right direction, they aren’t enough. In order to begin to chip away at challenges like Covid-19, U.S. international relations, and systemic racism, more long-term action (potentially achieved by working with Congress) must be taken.

Biden signed 14 executive orders in two days, more than the eight Trump signed in the entirety of 2020. They include allocating more government funds to testing and vaccines, mandating mask-wearing on federal property and public transportation, and working with the Department of Education to devise reopening guidelines for schools. These policies that Biden has signed so far are crucial to limiting the spread of the virus over the first 100 days of his presidency, but it is imperative that he begins considering longer term solutions.

For instance, instead of waiting to receive Republican support for his $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill, he must push through with it. It may jeopardize the idea of a united front, but by using budget reconciliation, the Biden administration can avoid a filibuster (which threatens to drag out the process) and provide immediate economic aid to Americans who need it. Every day spent playing politics is another day that thousands of Americans struggle to feed their families. After that is complete, he must turn towards creating a plan to assist Americans facing financial difficulties that goes beyond a one-time stimulus check. A possible solution could be to create a new New Deal, where the government hires workers to develop public transit and infrastructure, as Franklin D. Roosevelt did in the aftermath of the Great Depression. Whatever it may be, it is essential that Biden considers more sustainable methods of addressing the economic repercussions of the Covid-19 crisis.

Though Biden’s executive orders have also brought America back into numerous international organizations, they have not created a long-term, concrete plan for reestablishing global cooperation to tackle important issues such as climate change or Covid-19. For instance, he has resumed support for the World Health Organization (WHO), which Trump backed out of for supposedly being under the influence of China. While doing so certainly opened up the possibility for more international collaboration in handling the Covid-19 pandemic, such as the manufacturing and distribution of vaccines, there was no specificity in how America would contribute or coordinate with other countries. Following a similar model to his re-joining the Paris Climate Agreement is necessary; in that case, he specifically stated that he would aim for the US to have net-zero emissions by 2050. If he wishes to reverse the isolationist nature of Trump’s administration, Biden must reconnect with foreign leaders to repair strained relationships, not just through words, but through actions and policies that will bolster alliances weakened by Trump. Moreover, he must regain the faith of the global community, improve the efficiency and reach of international organizations, and work towards reestablishing America’s previously respected and powerful role in international politics.

Biden’s executive orders have also taken steps to solve the most immediate issues surrounding racial equity, but these cannot properly address the deeper roots of racial injustice in America. Already, he has halted funding for the wall bordering Mexico and reversed the Trump administration’s restrictions on passport holders from seven Muslim countries from entering the US, among many others. On the domestic level, Biden terminated the 1776 Commission, Trump’s attempt at rewriting American history by putting the spotlight on American independence rather than the history of slavery and racism. With these actions, Biden has made it clear that his administration will not tolerate racism and xenophobia, advancing America’s quest for racial justice. However, these efforts have not tackled the more important issues at hand: the racial tensions and inequalities that have only intensified with recent events like the death of George Floyd and the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on minority groups in America. Working against systemic racism requires more than a series of quick solutions; rather, it necessitates an understanding of how racism is ingrained within different areas of society (education, healthcare, etc.) and work with Congress to pass legislation that further minimizes the effects of racism. When approaching education, for instance, Biden should push for education reform and curricula that more accurately represent the darker aspects of American history. Instead of simply terminating Trump’s 1776 Commission, Biden should use policy to push for the 1619 project or other reforms. The changes might not be felt immediately, but a new curriculum could have long-term effects over a generation of young Americans.

Biden’s executive orders have certainly pushed America in the right direction in numerous fronts; his quick actions have been reassuring to a country traumatized by the events of the past year. Even so, there is still much to be done to reverse the legacy of the previous administration and start building a new one. While Biden can (and should) continue signing executive orders, he must also begin working with Congress to convert the executive orders, which are only temporary and can easily be overturned by a future president, into actual legislation passed through Congress. Otherwise, the current trends of positive change will remain only in the present, and not have a significant impact on America’s future.

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