WASHINGTON – US President Joe Biden signed off Wednesday on 17 executive orders aimed at undoing much of his predecessor's legacy on policies that span the gamut from immigration to climate and health policy.
Biden described the efforts as "starting points" as he begins his four years in office following his inauguration at the Capitol earlier in the day, saying his policy agenda is "bold and vital."
"With the state of the nation today, I thought it's no time to waste, get to work immediately," Biden told reporters while donning a mask in the Oval Office. "There's no time to start like today."
The orders place the US on track to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, the landmark agreement aimed at rolling back carbon emissions that former President Donald Trump chose to unilaterally exit from in a process that was finalized Nov. 4. The accord seeks to limit global warming and achieve a carbon neutral world by 2050.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres quickly welcomed Biden's action but cautioned "there is a very long way to go" before the agreement's lofty goals are met.
"The climate crisis continues to worsen and time is running out to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and build more climate-resilient societies that help to protect the most vulnerable," he said in a statement. "We look forward to the leadership of the United States in accelerating global efforts towards net zero, including by bringing forward a new nationally determined contribution with ambitious 2030 targets.”
Biden also moved to have the US rejoin the World Health Organization (WHO), which Trump moved to withdraw from in July amid disagreements over the international health authority's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Guterres lauded the decision, saying it will accelerate the UN's worldwide vaccine distribution efforts and helped to unify the global response to the pandemic.
At home, Biden ordered masks to be worn and social distancing maintained on federal property as well as in interstate commerce in an effort to help stymy the virus's spread as it continues to ravage the country with over 400,000 deaths.
Predecessor’s travel ban
Biden also signed an executive order, ending his predecessor's travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries, which the new administration called "discriminatory.”
In the proclamation, he said the US "was built on a foundation of religious freedom and tolerance, a principle enshrined" in the country's constitution.
Trump introduced the ban in March 2017 with an executive order followed by proclamations that introduced vetting capabilities and processes, citing attempted entries of "terrorists" or "public safety threats," in a move to prevent individuals from entering the US from Muslim countries and then several other African nations.
"Our national security will be enhanced by revoking the Executive Order and Proclamations," said Biden, ordering all American embassies and consulates to resume visa processing in a manner consistent with the move.
The restrictions were "rooted in religious animus, and xenophobia," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters at a press briefing.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) welcomed the move, calling it "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," said Nihad Awad, head of the nation's largest Muslim civil rights organization.
Biden signed just four of the 17 expected orders with journalists present, but the White House was expected to provide additional details on the others during an evening press conference. (Anadolu)