US President Joe Biden signed 15 executive actions shortly after being sworn on Wednesday, undoing policies put in place by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, and making his first moves on the pandemic, immigration, climate change, US census and regulatory changes.
Signing several actions in front of reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon, Biden said there was "no time to waste" in issuing the executive orders, memorandums and directives.
"Some of the executive actions I'm going to be signing today are going to help change the course of the Covid crisis, we're going to combat climate change in a way that we haven't done so far and advance racial equity and support other underserved communities" said Biden. "These are just all starting points"
Aides said the actions the Democratic president signed included a mask mandate on federal property and for federal employees, an order to establish a new White House office coordinating the response to the coronavirus, and halting the process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization.
Biden signed a document to begin the process of re-entering the Paris climate accord and issued a sweeping order tackling climate change, including revoking the presidential permit granted to the contentious Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Among a raft of orders addressing immigration, Biden revoked Trump's emergency declaration that helped fund the construction of a border wall and ended a travel ban on some majority-Muslim countries.
The Day One plans were just the start of a flurry of executive actions Biden would take soon after entering office, said his press secretary, Jen Psaki.
"In the coming days and weeks, we will be announcing additional executive actions that confront these challenges and deliver on the president-elect's promises to the American people," Psaki said.
Further actions would include revoking the ban on military service by transgender Americans, and reversing a policy that blocks US funding for programs overseas linked to abortion, reports Reuters.
On the economic front, Biden asked the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to extend a moratorium on evictions until the end of March, and the Department of Education to suspend student loan payments until the end of September.
$1.9 TRILLION VIRUS PLAN
Biden launched a $1.9 trillion plan to tackle the pandemic at home and despatched his top expert Anthony Fauci to Switzerland.
"Under trying circumstances, this organisation has rallied the scientific and research and development community to accelerate vaccines, therapies and diagnostics," Fauci told a WHO meeting in Geneva, confirming that the US would continue to pay its dues to the organisation.
Biden was a fierce critic of Trump's approach to tackling the virus in the US, which with more than 400,000 dead is the world's worst-hit nation.
The new president is seeking to vaccinate 100 million people in the next 100 days, increase the use of masks and testing, expand the public health workforce and offer more emergency relief to those struggling with the restrictions.
"For almost a year now, Americans could not look to the federal government for any strategy," said Jeff Zients, coordinator of the new Covid-19 task force. "As president Biden steps into office today, that all changes."
New White House vaccines coordinator Bechara Choucair restated the administration's intention to bring online thousands of federal vaccination centers as well as the mobilization of thousands more workers to help.
Biden rescinded the so-called "Muslim ban", an executive order Trump signed in 2017 that banned travellers from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the US.
The ban was changed several times amid legal challenges and ultimately upheld by the US Supreme Court in 2018, reports Al Jazeera Online.
"The president put an end to the Muslim ban – a policy rooted in religious animus and xenophobia," Biden's White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a Wednesday evening briefing.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations welcomed the decision as "an important first step toward undoing the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant policies of the previous administration".
"It is an important fulfilment of a campaign pledge to the Muslim community and its allies," the group's executive director, Nihad Awad, said in a statement.
Biden also signed an executive order to join the Paris Agreement. The move to rejoin the international treaty on climate change is expected to take effect 30 days after it is deposited with the UN, Biden's team said on Wednesday.
In November, the US became the first country in the world to withdraw from the treaty – a move that fuelled tensions between Washington and its allies in Europe and drew a widespread rebuke from environmental and human rights groups.
Climate-change leaders and campaigners worldwide welcomed Biden's move to rejoin the 2015 Paris Agreement.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomed the US return to the Paris accord but added: "There is a very long way to go. The climate crisis continues to worsen and time is running out to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and build more climate-resilient societies that help to protect the most vulnerable."
BORDER WALL CONSTRUCTION
Biden also rescinded the national emergency declaration that was used to justify some of Trump's funding diversions to build the wall on the US-Mexico border.
The order, Biden's team said earlier on Wednesday, will direct "an immediate pause" in construction to allow for a review of the funding and contracting methods used.
Building a "big" and "beautiful" wall between the US and Mexico to block undocumented immigrants from entering the country was one of Trump's key 2016 election campaign promises.
In 2012, the US adopted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to provide temporary relief from deportation to "Dreamers", young people who were brought to the US as children.
The Trump administration has tried to terminate the programme, through which 700,000 young people have applied for relief.
In a presidential memorandum signed on Wednesday, Biden directed the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the US attorney general, to make sure that DACA is preserved and fortified.
The memorandum also calls on Congress to enact legislation that would provide "permanent status and a pathway to citizenship" to the Dreamers.