A visual breakdown of Biden’s barrage of executive actions in his first weeks

Faced with a nation in crisis and an atrophied Congress, President Biden is flexing the power of his office to combat a struggling economy, racial division, climate change and an out of control pandemic that has taken more than 460,000 American lives.

Beneath a prominent Oval Office portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a president known for his use of executive power in an age of crisis, Biden has signed a flurry of directives in his first weeks.

Revokes six Trump-era orders related to federal regulation

Strengthens Medicaid and ACA

Revokes Mexico City Policy

Stops border wall construction

Preserves and fortifies DACA

Family reunification task force

Ends Muslim travel ban

Revokes much of Trump’s environmental deregulation

Ends transgender military ban

Revokes Census citizenship question

Ends 1776 Commission

Here are the 48 actions Biden has taken during his first 16 days, including on health care</span>, <span class="immigration-key key-label">immigration</span>, <span class="environment-key key-label">climate</span> and <span class="other-key key-label">other issues</span>.

These actions include executive orders <img src="./img/other.svg"/></span>, as well as presidential <span class="type-icon">proclamations <img src="./img/other_p.svg"/></span> and <span class="type-icon">memorandums <img src="./img/other_m.svg"/></span>, which carry similar legal weight to orders but are less formal.

Biden ran a campaign focused on reversing course from the Trump presidency, and 16 of the president’s actions so far have revoked one or more Trump policies.

More than a third of Biden’s actions have related to health policy</span>, including a slew of executive actions on Day Two related to the government’s pandemic response.

Among the health items he rescinded: the antiabortion Mexico City policy known by critics as the “global gag rule.” Biden pledged to revoke it on his first day in office, but instead he took that step on Day Eight. The policy has been rescinded and reinstated by almost every administration along party lines since 1984.

Reversing Trump’s immigration</span> stance has also been on Biden’s early agenda. He has signed nine actions since taking office, revoking 14 Trump-era directives.

Biden has signed two environmental orders so far, but the Day One action is his largest <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2021/climate-environment/biden-climate-environment-actions/">rollback of Trump policy</a> to date. This single order revoked or put up for revision 15 of the energy and environmental actions taken by the Trump administration and reinstated two of President Barack Obama’s previously revoked actions.

Other</span> actions signed by Biden cover issues of gender and racial equality, the economy, trade, national security and ethics in government.

Biden’s team was prepared to act fast, said Gerhard Peters, a political science professor at Citrus College and co-director of the American Presidency Project, which tracks executive orders. “You’ve got the crisis, you’ve got the degree of competence, combined with the perception in this administration that there’s a lot that needs to get undone quickly.”

Executive actions are a way for the president to enact parts of their agenda quickly and without much congressional opposition, said Daniel Gitterman, a public policy professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“They’ve become a creative and more frequent tool of the presidency,” said Gitterman, who wrote a book on executive power. He sees them as a way for presidents to show their constituents they are accomplishing things.

President Biden signs 15 executive actions in the Oval Office on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.
President Biden signs 15 executive actions in the Oval Office on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Biden has signed three times the number of executive orders his recent predecessors had at this point in their presidencies. The president, who spent 36 years in the U.S. Senate, has repeatedly operated independent of the legislature, prompting some to criticize his actions as overreach.

“There’s a lot of talk with good reason about the number of executive orders that I’ve signed. I’m not making new law. I’m eliminating bad policy,” Biden said Tuesday while signing the immigration orders.

Biden has far outpaced Trump, Obama and Bush on early executive orders

Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama also used orders to quickly address policies that would shape their presidencies, although they ran into limitations. Although Trump signed an executive order to revoke the Affordable Care Act and Obama laid the foundations to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, the health-care law remains and Guantanamo was never closed.

George W. Bush, who signed few executive orders early in his administration, pivoted to a strategy of sweeping executive power to combat terrorism threats after Sept. 11.

Executive orders are vulnerable to political change. While sometimes effective in the short term, “some of the most controversial and politicized ones are likely to be repealed and reversed after a new president comes in,” said Gitterman.

Many executive orders were overturned by presidents’ successors

Since 2001, almost 100 executive orders on topics such as the economy, immigration and health care have been revoked and more than 50 have been amended.

About this story

Additional information was provided by John Woolley, professor emeritus at the University of California at Santa Barbara and co-director of the American Presidency Project. Executive orders, proclamations and memorandums used in this story come from the Federal Register. The actions were categorized by primary topic and current status (active, revoked or amended) in a Post analysis.

Ashlyn Still is a graphics reporter on the elections team.
Adrián Blanco Ramos is a graphic reporter in the graphics department at The Washington Post. He previously worked at Spanish newspaper El Confidencial focusing on data visualization, data analysis and investigative journalism. He participated in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalist’s Paradise Papers investigation.