Biden’s Executive Order Frenzy

The 46th President has been busy signing proclamations signaling a new direction.

Fresh off his inauguration, President Joe Biden is signing executive orders at a record pace and is expected to sign many more in the days ahead. He is both quickly undoing much of the damage done by his predecessor and charting the course for the way ahead.

The first half-day was devoted to undoing Trump’s orders.

CNN (“Biden targets Trump’s legacy with first-day executive actions“):

President Joe Biden is finalizing 17 executive moves just hours after his inauguration Wednesday, moving faster and more aggressively to dismantle his predecessor’s legacy than any other modern president.

Biden is signing a flurry of executive orders, memorandums and directives to agencies, his first steps to address the coronavirus pandemic and undo some of former President Donald Trump’s signature policies.

“There’s no time to start like today,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office as he began signing a stack of orders and memoranda. “I’m going to start by keeping the promises I made to the American people.”

With the stroke of a pen, Biden has halted funding for the construction of Trump’s border wall, reversed his travel ban targeting largely Muslim countries and embraced progressive policies on the environment and diversity that Trump spent four years blocking.

Biden also reversed several of Trump’s attempts to withdraw from international agreements, beginning the process of rejoining the Paris climate accord and halting the United States’ departure from the World Health Organization — where Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, will lead the US delegation.

His first action was to impose a mask mandate on federal property, a break in approach to dealing with the pandemic from Trump, who repeatedly downplayed the virus. Biden also installed a coronavirus response coordinator to oversee the White House’s efforts to distribute vaccines and medical supplies.

Yesterday, the first full day of his term, was devoted to the pandemic.

CNBC (“Here are the 10 executive orders Biden’s signing to combat the Covid pandemic“):

On his first full day in office, President Joe Biden announced 10 executive orders to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, mandating masks on public transportation and directing agencies to use wartime powers to require U.S. companies to make N95 masks, swabs and other equipment.

The president’s plan emphasizes ramping up testing for the coronavirus, accelerating the pace of vaccinations and providing more funding and direction to state and local officials, according to a copy of it released Thursday. A key component of the plan is restoring trust with the American public. It also focuses on vaccinating more people, safely reopening schools, businesses and travel as well as slowing the spread of the virus.

“The National Strategy provides a roadmap to guide America out of the worst public health crisis in a century,” the plan says. “America has always risen to the challenge we face and we will do so now.”

Biden has taken office at a pivotal moment in the pandemic. Nearly 3,000 Americans are dying every day of Covid-19, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, and newly discovered strains that are more contagious are establishing footholds in the U.S., threatening to push the nation’s outbreak to even more deadly heights. The plan released Thursday expands on initiatives outlined last week and details how Biden plans to bring the outbreak under control and help the country recover.

Today, it’s on to the economy.

WaPo (“President Biden to increase federal food benefits among executive actions aimed at stabilizing U.S. economy“):

President Biden is expected on Friday to significantly increase federal food assistance for millions of hungry families among executive actions intended to stabilize the deterioration of the economy weighed down by the raging coronavirus pandemic.

Biden is asking the Department of Agriculture to allow states to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — commonly known as food stamps — and to increase by 15 percent benefits awarded through a school meals program for low-income students started during the pandemic, according to Biden administration officials. That could give a family of three children more than $100 in extra benefits every two months, officials said.

A separate unilateral move aims to help get previously approved stimulus checks into the hands of Americans who haven’t received them yet. And another would ask the Labor Department to make clear that workers who refuse to return to working conditions that could expose them to the coronavirus should be eligible for unemployment insurance.

To the extent I have an opinion on these issues, they’re mostly policies I support. Trump’s “Muslim ban” made very little sense, in that it wasn’t targeted in a way that did much to enhance US security, leaving open travel from partner countries (including those with majority Muslim countries)that are much more of a terrorist threat than some (including non-Muslim majority countries) on the list. The border wall was, at best, a childish fantasy. Pulling out of the WHO was dumb. Pulling out of the Paris Accords did next to nothing for American business while harming America’s standing to lead on an important issue.

I don’t know enough about the how the aid programs he’s targeting today work to have a strong view. I tend to think that, in the midst of a pandemic, we should be generous with benefits. I’m skeptical that we should pay people in “essential” industries where others are risking exposure to the pandemic to voluntarily refuse to work. If nothing else, it seems grossly unfair to those doing the essential labor. But, given who he’s appointed to positions in the national security field, I trust that Biden is being advised by people who have spent a lot of time thinking through these issues.

I gather that Biden plans to continue the executive order frenzy next week as well, having daily themes. We’ll see what else is on the agenda.

Regardless of the merits of the policies, I continue my very longstanding objection to governance by executive fiat. Outside of short-term emergencies where normal order is precluded, few of these choices ought to be made solely on the whim of the President. While you may very well like it when this President does it, recall that we’ve just had a four year nightmare where a solipsistic, vengeful, moron had this authority.

Beyond that, I don’t understand where the President gets the authority to spend monies not appropriated by Congress. Or, for that matter, to dictate to states whether they may spend more of their own money.

Some of the moves are largely symbolic and the messaging is mostly good. Getting serious about the virus, climate change, and restoring the economy and America’s moral authority are worthwhile signals to send in the early days of the administration. Still, I hope we’ll soon get down to actually sending bills up to Capitol Hill to get down to the actual business of governing.

FILED UNDER: Climate Change, Environment, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. gVOR08 says:

    Still, I hope we’ll soon get down to actually sending bills up to Capitol Hill to get down to the actual business of governing.

    I agree with you in principle and share your hope. But sending bills up to the Senate is the point at which principle is overwhelmed by reality. As long as we have Moscow Mitch and he has the modern filibuster, regular order may have to wait.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08: Biden may be uniquely positioned to break the cycle. He’s genuinely liked by a lot of Republicans in the Senate. He should take the case for his agenda to the public and rely on his relationships to get things through.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Beyond that, I don’t understand where the President gets the authority to spend monies not appropriated by Congress.

    From Congress, by default.

  4. wr says:

    @James Joyner:” Biden may be uniquely positioned to break the cycle. He’s genuinely liked by a lot of Republicans in the Senate. ”

    Perhaps when you have a little free time, you should read up on what McConnel is attempting in the senate right now….

  5. JohnMcC says:

    Of course, I cannot imagine serious disagreement that the power of government is law and making law is completely in the hands of the legislative branch. As you said recently (I think I read it here!) there has been a lengthy period of increasing reliance on Executive Orders for years, for decades. Mr Biden steps into that trend in mid-stream. And his XO’s that I’ve heard of (the Muslim Ban, building the “wall”) are canceling previous XO’s and/or are changes to existing programs (SNAP) which are administrative in nature. In those cases, I assume there is lee-way included in the actual legislation.

    Diminishing the USGov’t’s reliance on XO’s is a worthy goal. But not a worthy goal for Democratic administrations.

  6. Mister Bluster says:

    (Biden is) genuinely liked by a lot of Republicans in the Senate.

    How many of these Senate Republicans are the same legislators who kowtowed to former president Trump’s inane requests?

  7. I continue my very longstanding objection to governance by executive fiat

    I don’t disagree. I have gone, however, from lamenting this to seeing it as a direct consequence of the system (see, also, increased reliance on the courts to affect policy outcomes). In other words, this is less a deviation from “normal” operations but is rather the consequence of a legislative system that has too many veto points and veto actors (such as the fact that the Senate minority can block most legislation). There are other variables at play, and I plan to write more about this soon.

    But I have zero optimism that Biden will be able to charm the GOP into legislating.

  8. Sleeping Dog says:

    When Biden issued his immigration reform proposal, I’d hoped that this might spur a serious counter proposal from Rs and a move toward some compromise legislation. After all, both parties recognize the current immigration policy is broken and there are areas of agreement between the parties and significant interest groups from business to agriculture want action. But it hasn’t happened, led by L’il Marco, Rs are simply grandstanded their opposition without anyone offering a counter proposal.

    Maybe some group of Senators will quietly put a proposal and there will be progress on this and other issues. I’m doubtful, Rs need to choose to legislate rather then kowtow to the loudest, most reactionary portion of their base or Dems need to be willing to break some of those cherished Senate norms and begin legislating alone. Until change happens in the Senate, presidents are going to continue to administrate by exec order.

  9. Kathy says:

    At some point, a nation must confront the fact its constitution is out of date, at odds with reality, and better for obstruction than for governance. Then it must confront the fact that the flaws in the constitution prevent changing or reforming it, much less replacing it.

    America has an out. The states can band together and propose amendments via a Constitutional convention. This still involves a great deal of fractious partisanship, but governors and state legislatures overall, even in red states, seem more interesting in governing than the GOP at the national level.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Sleeping Dog: GOPs can continue to exploit immigration as a wedge issue to fire up the base. Or they can deal with it realistically. The former buys short term electoral advantage. The latter plays off their recent modest gains with Hispanics and offers long term advantage. I’d bet most of them go for the former.

  11. Jim says:

    When are the eunuch Republicans going to do what the Dems did and file lawsuits on Biden changing executive orders?

  12. Barry says:

    James: “Biden may be uniquely positioned to break the cycle. He’s genuinely liked by a lot of Republicans in the Senate. He should take the case for his agenda to the public and rely on his relationships to get things through.”

    James, I’d love to see this, and I’ll believe that – when it happens, and not before.

    Many of the same incentives exist for the GOP (especially McConnell) as did back in ’09.

  13. Paine says:

    I’m guessing though that future Republican presidents will view DJT’s policies (regardless of how stupid or pointless they are) as the status quo ante and will rollback any Democratic overrides for no other reason than because they can. We will probably be bouncing in and out of the climate accord and WHO for generations.

  14. Scott says:

    @Kathy: Be careful of what you ask for. The Convention of States is another far-right project. Given that each state would have equal say, it would be another opportunity for the minority to impose its will on the majority of people. Balanced budget, term limits, abortion, limits on Commerce Clause, taxation, repeal of 16th amendment(income tax), etc. Might as well break up the country.

  15. Kathy says:


    Not when a super majority of 2/3 of the states are required. It’s not impossible to accrue that many, but it’s not easy. besides, regional differences do come up.

  16. Jay L Gischer says:

    I read through the EO on DACA. It described DACA, and gave a bit of history. Then it directed everyone in the government to do as much as they could, within existing law, to preserve and protect the DACA policy.

    That was it.

    That doesn’t seem like overreach at all to me. It seems like a president who is putting is policy preferences into writing. What’s inappropriate about that?

  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    What @Steven said.

    If we don’t want government by EO – and I think we all agree on that – stop making it necessary. The show must go on, we must have government, we must face problems.

  18. Gustopher says:


    We will probably be bouncing in and out of the climate accord and WHO for generations.

    Maybe not!

    There are all sorts of possible sudden tipping points with climate change, and we don’t understand the climate well enough to rule them out. Frozen methane in the tundra forming a feedback loop? Animal migrations that cause viruses to jump species? Ocean currents changing? All possible.

  19. Kingdaddy says:

    James, your tut-tutting about Biden’s EOs isn’t really justified.

    1. He’s largely undoing the EOs that Trump signed.
    2. We’re in the middle of multiple national emergencies that require prompt action.
    3. He’s ready to work with Congress.
    4. Most Republicans in Congress are still of the scorched earth, take no prisoners variety that led to paralysis.
    5. Therefore, by “working with Congress,” we’re talking about collaborating and negotiating with a sliver of the opposition party. If we’re concerned that the sliver might not agree to something, along with a few Democrats, then we’re back to #4 as being the real problem.
    6. In the face of #4, EOs may be regrettably necessary.
    7. Biden does not seem to want the EOs to be more than a tool of last resort. He also does not want to exceed the bounds of the Constitution and custom on their usage.

    I’m all for getting back to the way the Constitution intended governance to happen, through legislation. He’s also clearly trying to get us there. So this is as good as it gets, for now.

  20. Mikey says:

    Attorney and legal correspondent Elie Mystal has this take on the substance of Biden’s EOs:

    Elie Mystal
    I don’t know how to make this point sexy, but when you read Biden’s EOs vs Trump’s EOs the thing that strikes you most is the COMPETENCE.
    Biden’s EOs are written in the language of LAW, and STRUCTURE, and like BUREACRACY.

    I just cannot emphasize how SHODDY Trump’s legal work was. Like the straight legal writing CHOPS of his entire administration was SO BAD.

    You’d get a Trump EO and the first 3 hours was just looking at thinking: “what, the hell, is this even SUPPOSED TO DO?”

    Biden’s EOs are like: “a thing to do this [law]” “which affects the following laws [law law law]” “and revokes the following provisions [law law law]” “in concert with the following [law law law]”


    Nobody’s gonna care. There aren’t enough people who can *spot the difference* between competent rule-making and a chicken drawing a nightmare with a crayon. And the media won’t give him “credit” for BASIC COMPTENCE.

    But, ye Gods friends, this is what ORDERS should sound like.

  21. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    Biden may be uniquely positioned to break the cycle. He’s genuinely liked by a lot of Republicans in the Senate.

    I am deeply troubled by your suggestion that extorting political favors from the heads of governments, killing tens (or perhaps hundreds) of thousands of Americans unnecessarily, and fomenting armed sedition are not enough to sway Republicans in the Senate, but the fact that they genuinely like Joe Biden might be.

  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    Biden may be uniquely positioned to break the cycle. He’s genuinely liked by a lot of Republicans in the Senate.

    I was going to say, “yeah, that’ll work,” but now I don’t have to. Thanks!

  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Sleeping Dog: “…the current immigration policy is broken…”

    Well maybe, but I’m inclined to think that the immigration policy works pretty much like the owners of capital expect it to. When they needed to stabilize wages in the high tech sector, they were able to get visa status H 1-b. When Trump needed a carve out so that he could find white service people for his enterprises, he got permission to bring in hotel maids from Eastern Europe.

    Immigration policy certainly looks like a mess to “we the people,” and differently to different sets of us at that. But “we the people” don’t set immigration policy. “We the owners” do.

  24. Kelley says:

    I’m really upset with Biden’s stand on abortion. If a woman want one fine, but don’t use my tax money to do it. It’s really funny that bacteria on some distant planets consider life but a fetus heartbeat isn’t.