Capitol Report: Here’s what Biden could change just by executive order

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What could Joe Biden do as president with the stroke of a pen? He’s shown here at a virtual meeting with his COVID-19 advisers on Monday.

AFP via Getty Images

As people and markets around the world brace for Joe Biden’s move into the White House, a key factor is what the veteran Democratic politician could accomplish without having to work with Congress.

Biden is widely expected to make use of executive orders that affect health care  XLV, +0.93%, the energy sector XLE, +14.27%  and other areas.

“Biden will presumably be at least as active in issuing Executive Orders as was President Obama, or President Trump for that matter,” said James Lucier, an analyst and managing director at Capital Alpha Partners, in a note. 

Below are some preliminary expectations around such orders or related executive actions.


Biden looks poised to sign an order once in office that puts the U.S. back in the World Health Organization, reversing President Donald Trump’s efforts to cut ties with the WHO during the coronavirus pandemic.

The former vice president pledged last month during the campaign to require facemasks in all federal buildings and on “interstate transportation,” as part of his approach to fight COVID-19.

He also has promised to step up White House use of the Defense Production Act for manufacturing critical products, including personal protective equipment and other medical gear.

Related: Biden announces his COVID-19 task force


Biden has said he will have the U.S. rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, a voluntary global pact that takes aim at climate change.

That expected move on the Paris deal tops the graphic below that was tweeted out by Rapidan Energy Group’s director of business and content development, Leslie Hayward.

The graphic also highlights how a Biden administration could block drilling for oil and gas XOP, +16.18% on federal lands, restore California’s authority to set automobile standards for fuel economy and emissions, and restrict the fossil fuel industry’s access to lower-cost financing. The former vice president said at last month’s debate that he would stop giving federal subsidies to the oil industry.

Read more: Biden pledges to return No. 2 polluter U.S. to the defining Paris climate pact Trump just dropped

And see: Biden has a climate-change mandate — what can he actually achieve?


Biden is expected to scrap Trump’s travel ban targeting some Muslim-majority nations, as well as bring back the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA lets “dreamers” — people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children — stay in the country.  

The Trump administration earlier this year said it will reject new DACA applications and shorten renewal periods after the Supreme Court refused to let the program be scrapped completely.

In addition, Biden has promised an executive order that would establish a task force that aims to reunite with their parents the 500-plus children separated at the border from their moms and dads.


Biden is expected to jettison the “Mexico City Policy,” which requires that foreign organizations certify that they will not “perform or actively promote abortion” if they receive U.S. taxpayer money. The policy has been a political football, tossed out by Democratic presidents and picked up by Republicans. 

Biden is also viewed as on track to deliver an executive order that promotes diversity and inclusion in the federal government, and he’s promised to set up a White House Council on Gender Equality. In addition, he has pledged to establish a federal right to union organizing for all public-sector employees, saying he would do that by fighting for key legislation and signing it into law.

Biden is expected to push in some way for some forgiveness of student loans, having called during his White House campaign for the cancellation of a minimum of $10,000 in such loans per borrower while also proposing other programs that target student debt. Attorneys from Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending argued in a September letter that the executive branch has the authority to cancel student debt.

Read: Biden has signaled he’s open to canceling student-loan debt — the question is when and how much