President Joe Biden wrapped up his first full week as president on Wednesday. In a potential preview of the next two years, he signed 37 executive actions while the Senate confirmed his nominees more slowly than it has for previous presidents.
Mr Biden’s executive actions so far have largely reversed several of former president Donald Trump’s signature policies and are focused on combating the Covid-19 pandemic, the economy, immigration, racial equality and climate change.
The new president signed 17 executive actions on his first day alone. These orders included a repeal of the travel ban that affected several Muslim-majority countries, US re-entry into the World Health Organisation and Paris Climate Accord, and an end to the construction of Mr Trump’s incomplete wall on the US-Mexico border.
That same day, the US Senate confirmed only one of Mr Biden’s Cabinet nominees by an 84-10 vote: Intelligence Director Avril Haines. The lone Cabinet confirmation on day one marked a departure from Mr Biden’s three immediate predecessors, all of whom had several Cabinet nominees confirmed the day they took office.
Since then, the Senate confirmed Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
The Senate is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, meaning Vice President Kamala Harris will cast any tiebreaking votes, thereby handing nominal control to Mr Biden’s party.
But Republicans continue to control Senate committees during a drawn-out battle between Democrat Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell over a rules package governing the evenly split chamber. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also transferred the article of impeachment against Mr Trump on Monday, adding another ball for Mr Schumer to juggle, because it is the Senate's duty to carry out the former president’s trial.
Amid the congressional drama, Mr Biden signed additional executive actions to get the ball rolling on several of his other policy priorities. These include a freeze on oil and gas drilling on federal lands and waters, an end to US government reliance on private prisons and a series of actions intended to strengthen the federal response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
As part of the Biden administration’s Covid-19 strategy, American citizens and non-citizens alike must now present proof that they have tested negative for Covid-19 or have previously recovered from the virus within three days of travelling to the United States.
The new administration’s drastically different policy priorities from its predecessor are already trickling down from the White House to federal agencies.
At the White House’s direction, the Pentagon repealed its Trump-era ban barring transgender people from serving in the US military. And Richard Mills, the acting US ambassador to the United Nations, announced that the Biden administration would restore economic and humanitarian aid to the Palestinians – something the Trump administration had eliminated.
The Treasury Department issued a sanctions licence allowing some humanitarian trade to take place in Houthi-controlled Yemen after the Trump administration designated the rebel group a terrorist organisation the day before Mr Biden’s inauguration. And the State Department issued a temporary freeze on Wednesday of arms sales initiated by the Trump administration to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Mr Biden proposed a five-year extension on the New Start arms control treaty with Russia, which is set to expire next month. Moscow welcomed Mr Biden’s proposal after rejecting the Trump administration’s offer to extend the treaty last year, citing unacceptable US conditions.
In the meantime, Mr Biden has mostly prioritised close US allies and neighbours in his first calls with foreign leaders. His very first call went to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, shortly after the prime minister criticised Mr Biden’s executive order that halted construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Mr Biden also spoke to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who said that the president had vowed to send $4 billion in aid to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in an effort to stem the wave of migration through Mexico into the United States.
He also held calls with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted that Mr Biden will use some of his first calls with foreign leaders to address potential US re-entry into the Iran nuclear deal – on the condition that Tehran first returns to compliance with the accord.