By Tom Kingsbury | Political Editor
At 17:00 (GMT), on January 20, 2021, Joe Biden was sworn in as President of the United States.
In his first speech as president he called for unity, saying the path forward is to “lower the temperature” as a nation.
Three former presidents – Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton – attended the inauguration, though the outgoing Donald Trump did not.
Though only at the very beginning of his presidential term, Biden has begun to make sweeping changes to many of the previous administration’s policies, signing 17 executive orders in his first two days.
His focus has been on issues such as COVID-19, climate change and a less isolationist foreign policy.
Trump-era policies scrapped
Biden has reversed several policies of the previous Trump administration in the first month of his presidency.
Within the first day, he signed an executive order ending the travel bans enacted on some majority Muslim states.
He also cancelled the controversial Keystone XL pipeline planned between Canada and the US.
Also within the first day, Biden revoked some Trump-era immigration enforcement policies, and later cancelled funding for the Mexico border wall.
Continuing the reversal of the Trump administration’s policies, Biden ordered the reuniting of the remaining 600 to 700 children separated from their families under a Trump-era policy which split up undocumented immigrant families.
Regarding asylum seekers, Biden revoked a policy that made them stay in Mexico whilst waiting for asylum. Asylum seekers are now beginning to be processed into the US, following registration and the passing of a COVID-19 test.
Also reversed were the Trump administration’s bans on transgender people serving in the US military, and on federal agencies and recipients of federal funds conducting diversity training.
Biden revoked the previous administration’s ban on US aid to groups that perform or inform about abortion, and signed an edict expanding Obamacare, which Trump had worked against during his presidency.
Biden halted legal action that was being taken against TikTok and WeChat, which may have resulted in the apps being banned in the US.
It was also revealed in an interview that Biden does not plan to provide Trump with intelligence briefings, as is a traditional courtesy in the US from incumbent presidents.
Steps taken against coronavirus
In his inaugural address, Biden stressed the significance of the coronavirus pandemic, saying the US needed to “face this pandemic as one nation”, continuing his rhetoric of unity.
Upon entering office, he established a mask wearing and social distancing mandate for federal employees and in federal buildings.
He also set up a new White House office on COVID-19.
Biden is now attempting to get a $1.9 trillion (£1.4 trillion) coronavirus relief stimulus bill, which would see $1,400 cheques being sent to most US citizens.
The bill is without Republican support, and some Democrats have asked for a lower figure.
In response, Biden said:
“Are we going to say to millions of Americans who are out of work – many out of work for six months or longer, who have been scared by this economic and public health crisis – ‘Don’t worry, hang on, things are going to get better.’?
“That’s the Republican answer right now. I can’t in good conscience do that.”
The bill includes a provision that would raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $15, more than doubling it.
Biden’s approach to foreign policy
On his first day, Biden said the US would now seek to “repair our alliances and engage with the world once again”.
He also began the refrain that the US would lead “not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example”.
One way in which he sought to do so was with a more aggressive stance against Saudi Arabia.
The Biden campaign team said the Trump administration “wrote Saudi Arabia a blank cheque”, and that Biden would reset relations, pressuring the country more on human rights.
The US has now suspended military support, including arms sales, of the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, which the UN has called “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”.
For comparison, Britain still sells arms to Yemen, though some MPs are pressuring the UK Government to follow the US in banning arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
The Biden administration has imposed sanctions on military leaders responsible for the coup d’état in Myanmar.
Biden said he was also open to a nuclear arms limitation deal with Iran, after Trump withdrew from a deal – agreed to under the Obama administration – in 2018. Biden has warned he will not lift economic sanctions on Iran until it complies with the original 2015 agreement’s terms.
He restored US aid to Palestine, which was cut by the Trump administration. The US envoy to the UN has said Biden supports a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.
Climate and domestic policy shift
Biden has made climate change a key issue of his presidency, calling it an “existential threat” to the world.
On day one, he signed an executive order re-joining the Paris Agreement on climate change, and halted the US’ withdrawal from the World Health Organisation.
Soon after he signed a series of further executive orders on the environment, pausing leases for oil and gas drilling on federal land where possible and reviewing the US’ energy leases.
He also ordered all the government’s cars and trucks to be changed for electric vehicles.
Climate will be made an “essential element” of US foreign policy and national security, and the administration has set ambitious goals for reducing emissions.
Biden has set a goal of conserving 30% of American land and oceans by 2030.
And Biden is aiming to pass a clean energy package worth $2tn through congress, with 40% of the investments being made in disadvantaged communities.
“This isn’t time for small measures, we need to be bold. It’s about jobs, good paying union jobs, it’s a whole of government approach to put climate change at the center of our domestic, national security and foreign policies. We can do this, we must do this and we will do this.”
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