Asa Daniels, Campus Carrier staff writer
Newly-elected President Joe Biden has signed 36 executive orders since coming to office, on Jan 20. according to the BBC. In less than 24 hours since becoming president, Biden signed 15 executive orders, more than any of his predecessors. They touch on a number of topics, including COVID-19 relief and restrictions, climate change and immigration.
Eric Sands, associate professor of political science, explained that many of these orders are undoing Trump-era executive orders.
“It’s a little game that happens every time you have a change in parties in the presidency,” Sands said. “The new president comes in and says ‘okay all of those executive orders that the previous presidents put out there, we’re now going to reverse them and they’re now all going to be this this, this, this and this’ and then a president of the opposite party comes to office and then says ‘okay now all of those things that we previously said, they’re now going to be here like this, instead.’”
Environmental policy has undergone the biggest changes since Biden was sworn in. He has halted construction of the Keystone Pipeline, according to the BBC, and has begun the process of returning the United States into the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Biden also lifted a number of gag-orders on environmental government agencies, which Sands explained as having prevented them from pursuing certain policies or areas of research related to the environment during Trump’s presidency.
“What Biden’s doing here is loosening the reins once again and allowing agencies to do their work into doing climate change research and going forward and making climate change proposals,” Sands said.
Another area of reversal to Trump’s policy is immigration. Biden has lifted the travel ban colloquially known as the “Muslim Ban” from countries such as Iran, Syria, Libya and Sudan according to the BBC, and has ended the emergency declaration Trump used to build the wall on the US-Mexico border.
Another area of change in immigration, according to Sands, is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) application. Biden is likely to make it more accessible.
“Trump had obviously tried to really curtail DACA and not allow it to be implemented widely, and with Biden in office, we’re going to see a much more liberal application of DACA. [he wants to be] sure that, you know, DACA [is] allowed to function as it was intended to,” Sands said.
Sands also believes that a Democrat-led Congress could lead to a more generally liberal immigration policy as well, but that what exactly will happen still remains to be seen. Sands believes that there is the chance for an amnesty program or something similar in which more immigrants become citizens of the United States. For Sands, a compromise will likely need to be met, since immigration attitudes in the country are complex.
“Most Americans do not favor an open border policy,” Sands said. “Most Americans think it is perfectly acceptable that the United States wants to control who and when people enter this country and, you know, be able to monitor and know what they’re doing when they’re here if they’re not legal citizens and at the same time just kicking people out of the country or breaking up families or those kinds of things, are not really policies we’re all that comfortable with.”
For junior Lauren Caylor, political science research assistant, Biden’s “Made in America” executive order stands out the most.
“I know a lot of people have been worried that our economy was going to go to tatters as soon as Biden took presidency and to see that he’s kind of putting that at ease. It is signaling that he’s not going to just totally give up on America and our economy first,” Caylor said. “It was kind of hopeful to see that.”
Another area of many executive orders by Biden are COVID-19 relief and restrictions. One of the restrictions include mandatory mask wearing and social distancing on federal property. However, Biden’s power beyond that appears very limited, Sands said.
“You know, Americans are not really big on compliance right now and they haven’t been big on compliance for quite a while,” Sands said. “So, anything that pertains to getting Americans to, you know, pull their weight, anything that pertains to getting more out of the American public, I don’t see how you’re really going to accomplish that through an executive order … people are just sick of this.”
The seemingly daily changes of the COVID-19 situation, Sands believes, is the main culprit for why many Americans are not agreeable towards maintained or further COVID-19 restrictions.
“There’s just all of this conflicting evidence and all of this conflicting reporting that’s coming out all the time and, yeah, I think some of the public is just tuning it all out, some of the public is just ignoring all of it now and it doesn’t help that we’ve got the vaccine because, to a lot of people, they hear vaccine and they think it’s over,” Sands said.
In the end, executive orders are simply directions for government bodies to implement the law according to the president’s goals, Sands explained. It does not equate itself to Congress’ power to create and pass laws.
For Caylor, the orders by Biden are nothing striking in terms of presidential power.
“I didn’t see any worry for him pushing his power, he wasn’t abusing any of his power, everything I read, it seemed like he’s gone about this in a proper way and the things he’s aiming to do are well within his power to do so,” Caylor said.
Caylor notes, however, that some of Biden’s orders have included a presentation to Congress of his objectives and goals. She thinks this could reflect some change about the executive branch, but it is still too early to tell.
“I can see that it’s taking a shift towards the President [having] a little bit of his prerogative that he puts forward, so, it could change … perhaps making the presidency be a bit more vocal about their goals,” Caylor said.
Caylor is most interested in seeing what kind of long-lasting effect the orders may have in terms of policies.
“I’m really interested to see what happens to these executive orders; it will be interesting to see what they lead to,” Caylor said.
Even if Biden may plan to do larger things in the future by the power of his executive, Sands explains that Congress will still play a large role in what Biden is able to actively do as president.
“I think that’ll be the ultimate test, will be how he chooses to use executive orders in the future, especially if Congress passes some broad reaching laws that give him a lot of discretion over the implementation of policy and there you could have executive orders carrying a tremendous amount of weight and being very influential as part of the policy making process,” Sands said. “To effect a major change still requires the consent of Congress and you’ve still got to get Congress on board and saying look, this is what Congress intends, this is what we want to accomplish and this is what we want you to carry out.