Signing a series of orders against climate change this week, US President Joe Biden said something in passing: “This is not the time for small measures; we have to be bold.”
The phrase reflects more than an attitude to the specific challenge of the environment and could well sum up the spirit with which Biden has faced his first 10 days in the White House, with striking vertigo.
Since taking office on January 20, the president has issued an unusual number of decrees in various areas that he considers a priority, from the coronavirus to the economy, from immigration to racial equality.
His goal, according to experts, transcends an eagerness to bury symbols and policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump.
Biden also seems determined to take advantage of the sense of helplessness that exists in a US battered by different simultaneous crises and divided, to push forward an ambitious agenda. “There’s that honeymoon feeling,” says Lynn Ross, a public policy professor at Georgetown University who worked for years in the US government, including the Executive Office of the President.
“It is smart that (Biden) start working doing everything he can, as quickly as possible,” Ross tells BBC Mundo.
However, the rush of the new president begins to draw criticism from the opposition and raises a question:how long will it keep up?
“There are no precedents”
During his first week in the White House alone, Biden signed 21 executive orders, according to the Federal Register, an official government publication.
This is already more than the sum of executive orders issued in their first week in office by the previous four US presidents, from Bill Clinton in 1994 to Trump.
“There is no precedent (for this) in US history: Even Franklin Rosevelt, who issued more than 3,700 executive orders in just over three terms, only issued a handful in his first 10 days,” says Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at the American University of Washington, to BBC Mundo.
Much of Biden’s measures have sought reverse decisions made by your predecessor.
For example, the president ordered the US to return to the Paris agreement against climate change and the World Health Organization (WHO), reinforced a program that protects immigrants who came to the country as children (known as dreamers) from deportation. ), and ended the ban on the entry of transgender people into the armed forces, all this against Trump’s decisions.
The construction and financing of the border wall with Mexico promoted by his predecessor and sought to expand access to medical care (including abortion) to “undo the damage that Trump did”, who in turn wanted to overthrow the health care reform of former President Barack Obama.
But in other cases, Biden’s actions have little to do with dismantling Trump measures and rather seek to fill what he sees as government gaps.
For example, the president created a position of coordinator of the government response to covid-19 and forced the use of masks on federal property, ordered the expansion of food aid programs, and placed the fight against climate change in the area of security. national.
Biden also called for an effort in all government agencies to end “systemic racism”, with reports on the level of fairness in their staff and plans to promote equal opportunities.
The president took all these measures using his authority, without having to go to the Capitol.
And, in parallel, Biden proposed to Congress a package of economic and health relief for US $ 1.9 billion in the face of the pandemic, as well as an immigration reform that opens the path to citizenship to 11 million people living without papers in the United States. USA
The limits of the president
In opposition ranks, some view this wave of executive orders signed by Biden with suspicion.
“@POTUS, you can’t govern with a pen and a phone,” Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn tweeted, addressing the president’s official account.
Democrats recall that Trump also resorted to executive orders as president: signed 220 in four years, while Obama issued 276 in twice the time.
Biden has already experienced one of the risks of ruling by decree: justice can reverse his orders.
A federal judge from Texas temporarily blocked Tuesday an order from the president to suspend deportations for 100 days, while he analyzes the issue.
On some issues, Biden may have broad popular support to act urgently after the worst US economic downturn since World War II (3.5% in 2020, based on the result released Thursday) and more than 400,000 killed by covid-19.
About eight in 10 Americans believe that the priorities of the president and Congress this year should be to strengthen the economy (80%) and tackle the coronavirus (78%), a new survey by the Pew Research Center indicated.
But on other issues on the presidential agenda, such as racial equality or the fight against climate change, the support of Republican voters drops significantly.
This poses challenges for a president like Biden, who on taking office called for the unity of the country after the deep fractures observed in the Trump administration.
Democrats in Congress have signaled that they are willing to push through Biden’s proposed stimulus plan alone, which neither did the opposition sit well.
The president’s party has majorities in both houses of Congress, but “they are so rare that it is not easy to approve Biden’s priorities” and this is another reason why the president resorts to executive orders, Lichtman observes.
“Biden is not going to sacrifice his policies for a show of unity: if the Republicans do not act, he will do what he thinks is good for the country,” he says. “If things work out in the end, none of the rhetoric will make one iota of difference.”