Every executive action Joe Biden has signed — and what they do

Alvin Chang, Francisco Navas and Guardian staff
·13 min read
<span>Photograph: Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Getty Images

Covid-19 response

Establish response coordinators: This group isn’t just responsible for ensuring proper distribution of personal protective equipment, tests and vaccines. They are also charged with ensuring the federal government reduces racial disparities. Read more »

Improve data collection: This is part of Biden’s efforts to coordinate an equitable response to the pandemic and future public health crises.

Establish a taskforce: The taskforce within the Department of Health and Human Services is charged specifically with looking at the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on communities of color. Read more »

Limit or suspend entry into the US: Among the countries Biden is limiting entry from are Brazil, South Africa and parts of Europe – all regions with high Covid rates.

Covid-19 relief and support

Help local communities house people who are homeless: Biden ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) to fully reimburse municipalities for their spending on housing people who are homeless. Under Trump, Fema was not fully reimbursing municipalities.

Address the economic fallout: This instructs agencies to use data to improve access to federal programs that provide pandemic assistance.

Support studies and assist local areas experiencing a surge of cases: Biden wants to support research that uses clinical trials that include underrepresented people, looks at how the pandemic affects rural areas, and studies the long-term affects of Covid.

Coordinate supplies and treatments: This includes everything from personal protective equipment to tests and vaccines.

Create a Covid testing board to expand testing capacity and access: Biden wants to explore the possibility of manufacturing tests in the US as part of an effort to increase capacity.

Expand support to states: Biden directs federal agencies to fully reimburse states for costs associated with the national guard and Fema to prevent spread of the virus.

Guidance on safely opening schools: Biden released a plan to safely reopen elementary and secondary schools. Much of his actions are recommendations rather than any rules, which speaks to the broader challenges of tackling problems in an American education system that stresses local control.

Covid-19 worker protections

Require masks on domestic transport: This includes airports, on international flights and on trains, buses and ferries.

Protect federal workers: Among other things, it allows federal workers to work remotely when possible and requires use of face covering by workers, contractors and visitors.

Require masks on all federal lands and buildings: This applies to employees and contractors and also requires social distancing.

Set stronger worker standards: Biden instructs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Osha) to revise Covid safety recommendations. The order also includes a national program to step up enforcement on workplaces that put workers at risk.


Reunify families separated at the US-Mexico border: Biden establishes a taskforce to reunify the hundreds of families who were separated at the border and still have not been reunited.

Review of Trump immigration policies around the migration surge from Central America: Biden ordered agencies to identify the underlying causes of surge in migration from Central America, review the process by which people can seek refugee resettlement in the US, and revamp the process by which people can seek asylum at the US border.

Review rules that might make it hard for people to access the legal immigration process: This executive order may make it easier for international students to obtain student visas and for those on work visas to obtain permanent residency.

Reverse Trump’s attempt to defund “sanctuary cities”: Biden reversed an order Trump signed after five days in office that said cities and jurisdictions refusing to comply with federal enforcement standards – commonly called sanctuary cities – would not be eligible for federal grants. The executive order was deemed unconstitutional later that year in 2017.

End construction of the border wall: Building a border wall on the southern border was one of Trump’s key campaign promises and his primary strategy to keep undocumented immigrants from crossing into the US. Biden redirected money for the wall to other projects.

Reaffirm protections for people brought to the US as children without documents: Trump attempted to end legal protections for people who were brought to the US as children without documents, a program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca). The decision was embroiled in legal challenges and eventually rejected by the supreme court. Biden’s order underlines the administration’s support for the program, which allows people who were brought to the US as children without legal documents to temporarily get work visas and be protected from deportation.

Extend a program that protected Liberians immigrants: About 4,000 Liberian immigrants were protected under a program known as Deferred Enforced Departure. Biden extended this program. Read more »

End Trump’s travel ban: Biden’s action instructs the state department to restart visa processing for the countries affected by the bans Trump announced in his first week, and to develop a proposal to remedy harms caused by the bans, including those who had visas denied. It also allows for increased screening and vetting of travelers through information sharing with foreign governments.


Rejoin the Paris climate agreement: The agreement commits the US to international carbon emissions goals. Trump withdrew the US, making it one of three nations outside the pact, contending that the agreement “undermines” the US economy.

Reverse an array of Trump policies: This includes the Trump administration efforts to weaken car emissions standards, energy efficiency standards and rules that help industries at the expense of the environment.

Civil rights

Reverse an order that restricted diversity and inclusion training for federal agencies: Trump issued an executive order restricting these trainings. Biden reverses that and directs agencies to assess whether their actions create or exacerbate any barriers for people based on, among other things, race, gender identity and disability.

Reaffirm that LGBTQ+ people are protected from sex discrimination: Notably Biden called on all federal agencies to enforce a US supreme court decision from last year that expanded the definition of sex discrimination to include discrimination based on sexual orientation as well as gender identity – with language that explicitly referenced the arena of high school and college sports. Read more »

Reverse order banning transgender people from the military: Trump announced a ban of transgender people serving in the military via Twitter in 2017.

Reaffirm tribal sovereignty: The federal government has violated treaty promises to sovereign tribal nations for more than two centuries. The Trump administration pushed several policies that further infringed on sovereignty, such as opening up huge swaths of land for drilling and claiming ownership of minerals on tribal land. Biden has instructed federal agencies to come up with plans on how to implement executive orders issued by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama on consulting tribal officials in the development of federal policies that have implications for tribes.

Condemn xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in their Covid-19 response: Trump referred to coronavirus as the “China virus” because the virus originated in China. This was followed up a noticeable uptick in violence towards Asian Americans. This memorandum acknowledges the federal government’s role in furthering the xenophobia against Asian Americans and directs agencies to ensure their communications don’t further the anti-Asian sentiments that Trump stoked.

End use of private prisons for federal inmates: Biden orders the attorney general not to renew contracts with privately operated prisons which are often accused of profiting from a racist criminal justice system.

Restore federal support for reproductive health programs: Biden reverses a Trump rule banning the use of federal funds on domestic and international programs that provide abortion services and counseling to women. It was seen as a rule targeting Planned Parenthood specifically. This executive order is the first step to restoring that support.

Reverse anti-fair housing policies repealed by Trump: The Obama administration ramped up enforcement of the 1968 Fair Housing Act – a law that prevents discriminatory housing practices. Among other things, the law says the federal government has a duty to “affirmatively further” fair housing, which activists have long said the federal government failed to do. To fulfill these requirements, Obama took steps to help local communities ensure non-discriminatory housing practices. Trump repealed these rules and tried to pander to suburban voters by saying he was pushing low-income housing out of their neighborhoods. This memo directs a review of Trump’s rules and is the first step to getting the Obama-era fair housing projects back on track.

Expanded voting rights: The president signed a sweeping executive order expanding voting rights. The provisions in the order included one that directs federal agencies to serve as voting registration agencies if states request them. Another provision directs the justice department to provide voter registration information to people in federal custody and also help formerly incarcerated people get identification. It also establishes a Native American rights steering group.

Established a gender policy council: Biden signed an executive order establishing a gender policy council charged with fighting for rights of the LGBTQ+ community and women.

Review policies on protecting students from sexual violence: Biden directed the Department of Education to review policies put in place by Donald Trump concerning sexual violence and sexual assault against students.


Reinstate aluminum tariffs: Trump signed an executive order on his last day removing aluminum tariffs on imports from the United Arab Emirates. Biden’s reversal is seen as a move to protect domestic producers.

Postpone regulations: Biden is directing federal agencies to postpone sending any regulations to the Federal Register until someone he appoints can review the regulation.

Procure US goods when possible: This is a step to support American producers who may be undercut by international competitors.

Revoke several Trump executive orders: The rescinded Trump executive orders are largely ones that made it difficult for agencies to enforce regulations.

Elevate president’s council of advisers on science and technology: Biden made the director of Office of Science and Technology Policy to a cabinet-level position. He nominated life scientists Eric Lander to the role, which now requires Senate confirmation.

Reaffirm that policies should be informed by science: Biden is pledging to not let policy preferences skew scientific findings.

Direct the modernizing of monetary regulations: This directs the federal government to make monetary policy with consideration to non-economic factors like public health and racial justice.

Ethical guidelines for executive branch appointees: Among Biden’s first “good government” actions was to pledge that rules would be put in place to ensure executive appointees are free from conflicts of interest – a response to several Trump appointees having personal financial interests in their policy decisions.

Reopen healthcare enrollment: Normally Americans can only enroll in the Affordable Care Act at the end of each year. Trump shortened the enrollment period. Biden reopened enrollment to allow more people to sign up.

Count undocumented immigrants in apportionment: Trump wanted the Census Bureau to exclude undocumented immigrants when calculating how many seats each state should get in Congress. The supreme court refused to take up the case on whether that was unconstitutional. Biden directs the Census Bureau to count undocumented immigrants.

  • Illustrations by Blake Dixon