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Biden Focuses On COVID-19 Strategy With 10 Executive Actions

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In this Jan. 20, 2021, file photo, President Joe Biden leaves after attending a virtual swearing in ceremony of political appointees from the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. The United States will resume funding for the World Health Organization and join its consortium aimed at sharing coronavirus vaccines fairly around the globe, Biden’s top adviser on the pandemic said Thursday, Jan. 21.

Updated at Thursday 3:36 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON – President Biden signed a series of orders and directives on his second day in office to take charge of stopping the spread of the coronavirus — steps that he and his advisers say will start to boost testing, vaccinations, supplies and treatments.

Accelerating the sluggish federal response to COVID-19 is Biden’s top priority, and he has promised 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days.

“While the vaccine provides so much hope, the rollout has been a dismal failure thus far. So I understand the despair and frustration of so many Americans and how they’re feeling,” Biden said in remarks shortly before signing the stack of executive actions.

“We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and it’s going to take months for us to turn things around. But let me be equally clear: We will get through this. We will defeat this pandemic. And to a nation waiting for action, let me be clearest on this point: Help is on the way.”

The president is also pushing Congress for another $1.9 trillion in relief, a package that would include direct payments to Americans, support for small businesses and a huge boost in funding for vaccines and testing.

The pandemic relief effort is a means to advance the strategy his team has developed, starting with the 10 executive orders and directives, his COVID-19 response coordinator, Jeff Zients, told reporters.

“Last week you heard the president lay out his vaccine strategy,” Zients said, adding that on Thursday, Biden will advance “the road map to guide America out of this public health crisis.”

One of the orders directs agencies to use the Defense Production Act to address critical shortfalls in 12 categories of items needed for testing, treating and vaccinating people for COVID-19 — vaccines, N95 masks, gowns, gloves, test supplies and kits, lab analysis machines, therapeutic drugs and other supplies — and will work to spur production of the items in the United States.

“This is a wartime undertaking,” Biden said on Thursday.

“We’re in a national emergency, and it’s time we treated it like one.”

Biden also signed a memo to direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fully reimburse states for vaccination and testing supplies and for the costs of National Guard deployments associated with the pandemic. Biden plans to establish the COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board to boost testing.

  • require masks on planes and buses and in airports, as well as require travelers to show a negative coronavirus test before flying to the United States
  • direct more studies and trials of COVID-19 treatments
  • mandate more public data on cases and vaccinations
  • offer more guidance to schools on reopening
  • direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to provide guidance for workplaces
  • establish a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to make recommendations on ensuring that underserved communities hurt worst by the pandemic are treated more fairly

Biden also plans to support the global response to the pandemic and will join the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility and other multilateral initiatives.

Read the administration’s summary of Thursday’s executive actions here.

What Did Biden Do On His 1st Day As President?

Updated at Wednesday 8:35 p.m. ET

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that President Biden has signed 15 executive actions, part of a flurry of steps he plans to take in the coming days to address his top policy priorities — and to roll back some of former President Donald Trump’s initiatives.

White House officials had originally told reporters there would be 17 actions signed, focused on addressing the COVID-19 crisis, the economy, racial justice and climate change.

The signed actions include a mandate for masks on federal property, an action to rejoin the Paris climate accord, a removal of Trump’s travel ban affecting Muslim-majority nations, a proclamation halting further funding or construction to the wall along the U.S. southern border, and an order reversing Trump’s decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization.

“This will strengthen our own efforts to get the pandemic under control by improving global health,” Psaki said during her first White House press briefing Wednesday night.

She added that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, will participate remotely in a WHO executive board meeting on Thursday.

On climate change, Biden revoked the permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, which environmentalists have vehemently opposed for years.

Psaki announced that Biden asked agencies to extend nationwide moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures, and the Department of Education to extend the pause on student loan payments and interest.

She also announced the White House has sent an immigration bill to Congress.

“The president’s priority reflected in the bill [is] to responsibly manage the border, keep families together, grow our economy, address the root causes of migration from Central America, and ensure that America can remain a refuge for those fleeing [persecution],” she said.

White House officials have said the actions signed Wednesday are just the first of many to come over the next several weeks.

“No time to start like today,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon as he signed the first three actions.

“We have a long way to go,” he said, adding he’ll need to work with Congress on top priorities.

The use of executive actions has become more common in recent presidencies, with congressional gridlock often stalling major legislation. But the actions can be fodder for lawsuits and criticism from political opponents — and can be more easily overturned by future administrations.

Top of mind for the Biden administration is advancing a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package with Congress, something the president has already been discussing with lawmakers.

Psaki said Biden prefers to move forward with a bipartisan bill, noting that could require some changes from the initial package. She did not, however, rule out using the budget reconciliation process to advance the measures.

Below is a partial list of Biden’s planned actions:

  • rejoin the World Health Organization;
  • ask federal agencies to extend eviction and foreclosure moratoriums through March 31;
  • ask the Education Department to extend the federal student loan payment and interest pause through Sept. 30;
  • place a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge;
  • begin to reverse more than 100 actions Trump took to roll back environmental regulations;
  • rescind Trump’s 1776 Commission and revoke Trump’s order limiting diversity training;
  • stop all wall construction at the southern border; and
  • reverse the Trump directive to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census numbers used to reapportion each state’s share of congressional seats and Electoral College votes.

COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving story, and we are working hard to bring you the most up-to-date information. We recommend checking the Coronavirus Information Center for the most recent numbers and guidance.

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